Dave Van Horn Looks for Toughness from Diamond Hogs

It's clear what Dave Van Horn is looking for as Arkansas travels to LSU. There needs to be some fight in the Razorbacks.

No one hates losing like Dave Van Horn, the veteran Arkansas baseball coach. As the chances for postseason play slip away, Van Horn is looking for toughness down the stretch.

The Razorbacks (26-19, 7-14) travel to No. 13 LSU (28-16, 11-10) for a weekend SEC series in need of a series win to climb out of the bottom end of the standings.

Van Horn pointed to assistant Tony Vitello after the 14-6 loss at Missouri State on Tuesday night. Vitello had surgery on a broken nose earlier in the day. He was excused from the trip to Springfield by the head coach, but the recruiting coordinator and hitting coach made the trip anyway.

"I just said how about some toughness," Van Horn said. "Show up for the team. He showed up. If you are tired, let me know. We'll get you out. We have 10 games left and I want guys to play hard until there are no more games left."

Vitello sustained his broken nose when he took a line drive in batting practice during the Kentucky series when a ball went through netting.

"Ideally, he would have had the surgery last week, but the doctor was not available," Van Horn said. "I told him to stay home, but he wanted to be there."

Shortstop Michael Bernal said Van Horn's message was clear late Tuesday night.

"He brought it up to take a page out of Coach Vitello's book on toughness," Bernal said. "It's definitely something we can use and emulate."

Definitely, the Hogs are running out of games. They need a hot streak to avoid seeing the school's streak end of 14 straight NCAA tournament bids.

"If we don't win the series this weekend, it starts looking pretty bad," Van Horn said. "It's hard to put a number on what we need, but we just need to win SEC games and it helps the most to win on the road.

"I just want to see guys play it out and play hard."

Vitello earned praise from the head coach for his work in recruiting.

"The problems you are seeing now comes from two years back down the road, not keeping the players we signed," Vitello said. "Our 2016 class is as good as we've signed. We need to get them to school The 2017 class is over the top and the 2018 class is falling into place. Tony has done a good job."

It's obvious where the Hogs need help right now. It's on the mound. If the Hogs are to make a run, it probably begins there where veterans have struggled throughout the season. Dominic Taccolini has been the best option of late and will open the series Friday night.

"If you are going to flip the switch, it usually starts on the mound," Van Horn said. "The problem we've had this year is our go-to guys aren't there. Of late, we've had to rely on some of the younger guys. They've come in for critical situations."

Van Horn was talking about relievers Blaine Knight, Barrett Loeske and Isaiah Campbell, all freshman. They'll be in the pen at LSU with Taccolini, Zach Jackson and Keaton McKinney getting starts.

Taccolini looks forward to pitching at LSU. He made the trip two years ago, but the starters went deep and the bullpen didn't get a lot of action.

"I do remember it," he said. "It's a place that has great attendance and we are right behind them usually, second or third in the nation. We are excited and look forward to it. It will be the first time I've pitched there and I look forward to it. It's a wild atmosphere. The fans are right on top of the bullpen and they are usually chirping.

"They have a good lineup. They are aggressive on the bases. I'll focus on keeping them off the bases and being quick to the plate. I want some 1-2-3 innings to keep the crowd out of the game."

Bernal said, "It's a good rivalry. We don't like them and they don't like us. These are the kind of places you come to the SEC to get a chance to play and compete with a team like that."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories