Diamond Hogs lock in on Le Moyne

Top-seeded Arkansas (39-21) gets word that it will host Le Moyne (36-19) on Friday night at 7 p.m. in a NCAA Regional at Baum Stadium that also includes second-seeded Wichita State (47-14) and third-seeded Missouri (37-21-1).

From being picked last in their division to an SEC baseball championship to now a NCAA Tournament Regional host and maybe even a Super Regional one.

That's the unlikely path No. 9 University of Arkansas (39-21), one of a record nine SEC teams in baseball's version of the Big Dance, hopes to continue to take in its quest to get to Omaha for the College World Series.

Not many thought these group of rebuilding Razorbacks could get to the CWS, but UA head coach Dave Van Horn thinks his team is worthy of Omaha.

"It is now, " Van Horn said. "I told them after the game the other day (Saturday) when we lost (3-2 to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament)," Van Horn said. "We didn't know which way we were going to go. But we have continued to get better, we have continued to really bond as a team and no one has that look in their eyes that they are ready to go home."

Arkansas was awarded a No. 1 seed and a host role for the four-team regional, but was also pleasantly surprised to get the eighth and final national seed meaning the Razorbacks would host again next week if they get through this one.

That task starts with a 7 p.m. game Friday night at Baum Stadium against Le Moyne (36-19) with action getting underway earlier that afternoon at 2 p.m. when second-seeded Wichita State (47-14) battles third-seeded Missouri 37-21-1.

There will be games at 11 a.m. (losers), 3:30 p.m. (winners) and 7:30 on Saturday with the championship set for 2 p.m. on Sunday and an if necessary game slated for 6:30 p.m.

"We hope to have a real good weekend and move it on from there," said Van Horn, whose team would host the winner of the Florida State Regional if it gets to the Super Regional. "We got to have some guys have some good games offensively...We need to have four or five guys step up and get some keys hits and start some things for us. If that happens, we can play for awhile."

Le Moyne, a school of 2,200 students located in Syracuse, N.Y., won their second straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title on Saturday when the it downed Manhattan 6-4.

"Le Moyne has been good all year," said Van Horn, whose team watched the pairing announced at Fayetteville restaurant On the Mark. "If you look past them, they will beat you..."There are 64 teams left and they are all in for a reason."

The Dolphins will be riding a seven-game winning streak when they arrive in Fayetteville and finished 24-3 in MAAC play.

They actually got it going in the ninth game of the season after struggling out of the gate with a 0-8 start overall and entering conference play with just a 4-11 mark.

"This is the second year in a row in the NCAAs and it's just like I told the team they are not going to be wide-eyed coming in here and just happy to be here," Van Horn said. "They've got the (MAAC) Player of the Year with 12 home runs and they are out of New York and New York puts out a lot of good players every year. They (the New York area) always have a lot of players drafted. There is a reason they are in the tournament and that's because they can play."

The two teams do have a history with Le Moyne downing Arkansas 7-5 in the first round of the 1989 in the NCAA Regional in Waterbury, Conn, but the Razorbacks roared back through the tournament and downed Le Moyne 6-5 to advance to Omaha.

Le Moyne, hitting .317 as a team, has a standout player in senior outfielder Jeff Justice, who is hitting .404 this season, has 12 of his team's 44 homers, 49 RBIs and 15 steals.

They also have speedster at the top of the lineup in senior outfielder Kyle Brown, who is currently batting .356 and has 42 steals in 49 attempts this season. The Dolphins' pitching staff is headed up by 6-6, 230-pound junior right-hander Matt Scherer (10-2, 2.08) and 6-8, 195-pound junior Alan Drechsler (10-0, 2.80), who lead a staff that has given up 65 homers this season.

Van Horn, whose team is ranked ninth by Collegiate Baseball and 10th by Baseball America, and his staff planned to start plowing into information about Le Moyne and the other two teams in the regional.

"If we can get video, we will," Van Horn said moments after the announcement. "We will definitely get scouting reports from everybody we can and try to find out tendencies - are they more of a hit-and-run team, do they bunt a lot or do they just grip it and rip it a little bit?" Van Horn said. "You try to find out about their starting pitching and who comes out of the pen for them. The coaches have already left to start working on that."

Arkansas is expected to start junior left-hander Clint Brannon, it's normal Friday night starter, on the mound against Le Moyne, who does have six righty swingers and three southpaws in its starting lineup.

"I would there is a 95 percent chance we will just go with Clint," Van Horn said. "I don't see us really changing anything unless we find out they are just a dominant right handed team. As of right now you can just look for us to go with Clint."

The tournament's top eight seeds all have the opportunity to host Super Regionals, which are best two-of-three series between regional winners for the right to advance to the CWS.

The Arkansas Regional is paired up in the brackets with the Florida State one that has the top-seeded Seminoles (42-20), second-seeded Oklahoma State (37-22), third-seeded Central Florida (44-16) and Bethune-Cookman (27-26).

"What a compliment to our league to get two top eight seeds," Van Horn said. "I've said all along that South Carolina all along has the best talent. Getting a number two and us getting a number eight is great. I think that had to do with how we finish in the Western Division - a great division - and then winning the outright championship (by) tying with Georgia, I think the committee thought they needed to give us a top eight seed and I appreciate that."

Texas is the top national seed with South Carolina, Miami (Fla.), Georgia Tech, Stanford, Rice, Arizona State and Arkansas, who had the fewest wins of those eight, rounding out the chosen ones.

"I was hoping it would eight so we could get in, but I knew it could be nine, 10 or 11," Van Horn added. "There wasn't a lot of expectation (for us) this year and you just never know how the committee is going to go - whether they thought we just snuck in or had one of those years or really deserved it."

Van Horn thought his team's 2-2 performance in the SEC Tournament last week probably helped.

"I thought we played well enough in the tournament to deserve it - a two-run loss in 13 innings and a one-run losses," said Van Horn, who took Nebraska to two CWS. "We could have easily won three or four ball games."

Mississippi State did not make the eight-team SEC Tournament, but their five-of-six league finish in the regular season ended up giving the league the record ninth team.

"We've got a great league, a great league," Van Horn said.

Van Horn stressed how important it is to win the first game on Friday night and not have to put in extra work on Saturday and Sunday of the three-day event.

"It's huge," Van Horn said. "If you lose on Friday, you have to play four games in the next two days. It is not like it is spread out over a four or five-day period. The first game for every team is really big."

After having over 23,000 come through the gates for the last regular season three-game series with Auburn, Van Horn is expecting some 10,000 or so on Friday night. "

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