Emotions Still Raw at Baum Stadium as Van Horn, Jorn Meet with Media

Dave Van Horn thinks key players will return for Arkansas baseball team. Dave Jorn joined Van Horn in a Wednesday media conference at Baum Stadium.

It's been wide ranges of emotions around Baum Stadium this week. There was still some rawness Wednesday as Dave Van Horn and Dave Jorn both met with the media.

Van Horn, the Arkansas head coach, tried to explain his first losing season and a school record 13-game losing streak that turned 26-16 into 26-29. Jorn retired as pitching coach and teared up in front of the media, clearly something that happened when he told players on Monday.

Neither had ever been through anything like the last season. Jorn said he'd known only success as a college pitching coach. He said he counted seven College World Series trips on his resume, even though he was only around for the fall ahead of the 1989 CWS trip.

Both Van Horn and Jorn appeared to be misty eyed as they discussed the events of the last few weeks, then the emotional meeting with players Monday when the veteran assistant broke the news that he was done. Jorn, considered a father figure by players, couldn't finish all the things he wanted to say Monday and had trouble Wednesday, too.

"You aren't going to make me do this again?" Jorn said when asked about the emotions.

The worst of it this year started with a 11-8 loss in 11 innings to Texas A&M in the second game of a doubleheader on the last day of April. An 0-12 May followed that left the Hogs out of post-season play for the first time under Van Horn. Dating back to Norm DeBriyn's last season as coach, the Hogs had gone to the NCAA tournament 14 straight years.

There were blowout losses and near misses in that stretch. Clearly, some still haunt Van Horn. He touched on some of them in what he called a "rambling" discussion with a packed room of TV cameras and reporters on Wednesday.

Surprisingly, he didn't talk about the 9-1 lead the Hogs blew at LSU. He did bring up the decision to leave James Teague in to pitch with a 4-3 lead in a game that Alabama eventually won 7-4. The Hogs had claimed the lead the previous inning on Rick Nomura's two-run homer.

"I hadn't thought about having a losing season," Van Horn said. "It wasn't a big deal. Obviously, it is a big deal."

That's not what he'll remember, though. It's not making a regional.

"That will weigh on you," Van Horn said of ending that streak.

Then, he added, "Really, 13 games ago after we beat A&M, I didn't think we would be under .500. In my mind I thought we'd split the games left, get our RPI to 40, win a couple of games in the (SEC) tournament and be in a regional."
All during that streak Van Horn said he just tried to come up with "what I could do to get us wins and nothing seemed to work."

That's when he touched on the loss to Alabama when he was faced with the decision on whether or not to let Teague pitch to a lefty when Jordan Rodriguez, a lefty, was hot in the bullpen.

"Teague gave up the hit," he said. "I could have gone to Rodriguez, but I'm thinking he got the same guy out the night before and so he had seen him. Teague got him 1-2 and then there were two fouls balls over the stands in left. I thought, maybe I should go get the lefthander. But I wanted to respect Teague.

"There are a lot of things I could have done over that stretch. In the end, I look in the mirror and say, 'It's my fault.' I told the team the same thing and I won't let it happen again."

Van Horn said he feels good about next year's outlook, especially if a couple of experienced players turn down pro money after probably going in the draft. He was referencing the team's top hitters, Carson Shaddy (.332) and Luke Bonfield (.304).

Both are sophomores, but are draft eligible. Shaddy just finished his third year. Bonfield will be 21 before the draft. Shaddy has arm trouble, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

"I feel good, but I'd feel better if we get some guys back," Van Horn said. "We need some experience. We need Bonfield and Shaddy to hit four-five or one-two. From what they have told me, I feel like both are coming back."

Van Horn is also encouraged with the way Eric Cole finished the season at the plate. He likes the looks of catcher with Grant Koch returning. Those two freshmen can hit.

Clark Eagan's status is less certain. He's an exceptional student close to a degree, but will probably be drafted.

"He is not gung ho about signing," Van Horn said. "There is nothing running him off, more calling him back."

Among the pitchers, Zach Jackson is almost a sure bet to sign, despite struggles through most of his junior season. His stock probably fell from a mid first rounder to possibly late second rounder.

"He maybe took a step back, but he's still got a good arm and a good breaking ball," Van Horn said of Jackson.

Dominic Taccolini also struggled much of the year, but likely will return for his senior season.

"He's another 4.0 student," Van Horn said. "He's smart. He doesn't feel great about going out. He's not real confident. He looks forward to the next chapter, the next (pitching coach)."

Jorn retired as pitching coach after 14 years with Van Horn, six with DeBriyn.

"I think (Taccolini) is 70-30 coming back," said Van Horn, who said there is a new plan for him next year.

"I always thought of him as a reliever. He's going to train for that."

That will include work to up the velocity by 4-5 mph.

"He'll work on some arm strengthening things to get his velocity to jump," Van Horn said. "We think he can be 95 and close."

Van Horn wouldn't make a prediction on Teague, another senior-to-be pitcher coming off a poor year. Teague was 0-3 with a 10.19 ERA in SEC games. He was the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the Super Regional last year, but has had elbow problems since then.

"It's TBA," Van Horn said. "I'm not sure James want to play baseball. You saw the arm problems."

There was an explanation of what it takes to play college baseball at the highest level. Van Horn isn't sure Teague is still "hooked up" right now. But that could change. Van Horn has seen players burn out only to recharge in a couple of weeks.

"I want to make sure he feels good," Van Horn said. "I know he wants to play pro ball. If he isn't drafted, we'll see if that lets the air out."

Keaton McKinney will try a developmental program on the west coast to try to find his mechanics and arm strength. He struggled after hip surgery in the summer.

"He'll go to pitching camp," Van Horn said. "He's a competitor and he told me that he felt like he let the team down. Talk is talk, but he said all of the right things."

Van Horn loves the 2017 class, including a handful of junior college signees that have yet to be released. He said there are solid arms and an entire new infield signed.

"We've got five good infielders signed," he said, noting returning infielder Cody Scroggins had better figure out how to hit.

Shaddy could play in the infield, but probably will wind up in left field.

"We'll work him at second base in the fall," Van Horn said. "We've got to find him a position. Second base might be his spot in pro ball."

Both Van Horn and Jorn were impressed with the freshmen pitchers at the end of the year. Both like the prospects of the signees on the mound.

"I feel good with what I'm leaving with those freshmen," Jorn said. "There are six or seven I thought were really doing good things at the end. It took awhile, but you could see things with Isaiah Campbell, Blaine Knight, Barrett Loseke, Jake Reindl, Anthony Dahl, Kacey Murphy and Weston Rogers.

"I know what's signed and there are good arms coming. There is no doubt that this is one of the historically best places in college baseball and I don't see that changing."

As far as the signees, Jorn said, "They throw 88 to 92 and you think they'll get stronger as they mature. I feel good. Tony Vitello has done a good job recruiting. There is depth in the arms coming in and coming back."

Van Horn said, "Now we just have to see what happens with the draft. We'll have a new coach. The guys here have to take what Coach Jorn gave them, remember that and then let a new guy perfect it."

Jorn will remain on staff through the final month of his contract, through the end of June. Van Horn said it may take a few weeks to fill the spot since most of the candidates are still with teams finishing seasons. It may be different than the last two times he filled staff positions.

"Since I've been here, we've had two openings," he said. "When Matt Deggs left, the first guy I called was Todd Butler and I got him. When Todd left, I called Tony Vitello.

"I've got four or five guys in mind, but this time I'm just going to open it up. I've been getting phone calls the last two days and I'm taking all of them.

"It's a wide variety, a big pool. I want someone very experienced, either Division I or pro baseball. I want someone experienced in recruiting. I want someone who can relate to 15, 16 and 17-year olds."

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