Arkansas head baseball coach Dave Van Horn could see this coming a month ago.
Not necessarily needing to likely win two of three games this weekend at No. 4 Mississippi State to make the SEC Tournament, but the likely end of 13 consecutive trips to the NCAA under Van Horn.
That’s the situation that faces the Razorbacks (26-26, 7-10) – losers of 10 straight – as they face the SEC West co-leading Bulldogs (37-14-1, 18-9) beginning Thursday night in Starkville.
“It's different, that's for sure,” noted Van Horn, who will miss Thursday night’s game to attend his daughter’s graduation. “It's not what you want. It's not what you plan on. But honestly, mentally, I've prepared for this for a month, because I've been seeing it coming.
“I know who we were battling and I knew who we played. We've had the toughest schedule in the country the last four weeks of the season, in my opinion, as far as teams and where we had to play, at LSU, at Mississippi State. Texas A&M here.
“ … There have been a couple of those games that got away that have cost us going to Mississippi State this weekend and knowing we're going to be in the (SEC) tournament. It's our own fault. We don't hold leads. We don't make a play. We don't make a pitch or drive in a run. It's cost us. It's own fault.”
There are certainly easier places to play then Mississippi State’s Dudy Noble Field, which will likely be packed as the Bulldogs bring in an eight-game winning streak.
Mississippi State is a half-game back of No. 1 Florida for the SEC overall lead and tied with Texas A&M for the West lead.
“It's probably about as tough as it gets as far as the environment,” Van Horn said. “Mississippi State's been hot. They've made a big run here at the end and swept last weekend and gained a game on Texas A&M. So now they have a straight-up tie, and I think Ole Miss is right on their tail.
“They're going to give us everything they've got. Their fans are going to be there because it means something. It's going to be a real good environment for our young players to try to handle and learn from.”
Arkansas’ 10th straight loss was an 8-2 one to visiting Missouri State on Tuesday in which the lone Razorback hit was an infield single in the opening inning by Carson Shaddy.
“It's pretty obvious,” Van Horn said. “We're struggling. What else can I tell you? Look at our team ERA. Look what happened last weekend, the weekend before and the weekend before on the mound. I mean, it's called we don't have very good starting pitching.
“Then the year, you don't have enough wins, so now you've got to play it one game at a time instead of looking at the whole series, we've got to try to win every game. So we'll use anybody we have to game one to try to win.”
Arkansas pitcher Dominic Taccolini (5-4, 5.81) will get the start Thursday with all hands on deck if needed. That means you could also see Zach Jackson (3-4, 4.76, four saves) and Keaton McKinney (1-5, 6.66) in game one.
“If we have to use Jackson, McKinney, Taccolini, all of them, we will and we'll move on the next game, because we're running out of games.”
Razorback Isaiah Campbell (3-0, 3.77) will start Saturday’s finale if not needed earlier.
Arkansas and Tennessee (at Georgia) enter this weekend out of the 12-team SEC Tournament and are vying with Missouri (at Kentucky) and Auburn (at Vanderbilt) – both 8-18 in SEC action - for the last two spots.
Van Horn can use Mississippi State as an example of turning things around quickly as the Bulldogs were 24-30 overall, 8-22 in league play and lost eight of their last nine games last season.
The Bulldogs have turned that around and are now batting .312 as a team – second in the SEC – and have a tremendous pitching staff led by ace and Thursday starter Dakota Hudson (8-3, 2.52), Austin Sexton (6-2, 3.59) and Konnor Pilkington (3-2, 2.79).
“Yeah, I mean, we've used them a little bit (as an example),” Van Horn said. “I think everybody's that had a bad year will say, what about what they did last year and how they recovered.”
“You look at what happened to them (last year),” Van Horn said. “It snowballed on them. I talked to Coach Cohen a couple times about it. He said, kind of like us … We haven't been able to turn it around because we don't have enough pitching, bottom line. … He said anything that could have gone wrong went wrong for them last year and it just didn't happen.
… He had a lot more arms last year than we do. Last year they just didn't score. They've got almost all those guys back and added a couple to them. Now those guys had real good years. A couple of guys have gotten a lot better.
“They've brought in a couple of good hitters. Obviously they've put together a tremendous year."