Scott Hode may be the littlest clean up hitter in the NCAA Tournament , but one doubts if any of those big guys have as big a ticker as the University of Arkansas junior shortstop.
Hode and the rest of a UA team known for its grit and heart will be on display tonight when the top-seeded Razorbacks (39-21) battle upstart and fourth-seeded Le Moyne (36-19) in the opening round of the NCAA Regional at Baum Stadium.
Those two teams will meet before maybe as many as 9,000 fans at 7 p.m., a couple of hours after second-seeded Wichita State (47-14) and Missouri (37-21-1) hook up at 2 p.m. to kickoff the three-day event at the Razorbacks' home field.
"It's going to be awesome," Hode said. "I don't know how many we are going to be able to cram in there, but it is so exciting to have it in our own ballpark. The last few years we have been waiting to see if we are going to get in. This year not only are we in, but we are hosting and we just have to take care of our business."
Hode is hitting .306 heading into the NCAA Tournament, his 7 homers tie him for the team lead with Danny Hamblin and Jake Dugger , and he leads the team with 48 RBIs. and a .515 slugging percentage.
All this from a guy who have n ever hit clean up before and is certainly not your prototype cleanup man who stands 6-0 and weighs 180 pounds.
"I've had to adapt," Hode said. "It was quite an adjustment and you have to adjust to how teams pitch you differently than if you were hitting in another spot in the lineup. I've just try to run with it and learn as I go. I'm not the a big bopper, but I do have a little pop and that's why they put me there."
Hode, who had 10 home runs and 110 RBI in his four years at Crystal Lake (Ill.) High School, chose Arkansas over Notre Dame, Purdue and Central Michigan.
He says he came to Fayetteville to experience moments like this weekend's NCAA fanfare and hopefully end up in Omaha for the College World Series.
"This shows what can happen if you play hard and work hard all season," Hode said. "Now we just have to go out and take advantage of what we have earned. I had faith that something like this would happen down here and now we are just going to see if we can't take it all the way to Omaha."
There was quite a bit of difference in where this team was picked to finish - dead last in the SEC West - and how it finished as co-SEC champions.
"When you get picked dead last, it just lights a fire underneath you," Hode said. "That is just kind of fuel for the fire. You just go work harder because of that. We got better every day and the coaches had faith in us and we had it in each other."
It was a team that got it down without a lofty team batting average or great defensive numbers.
"We worked on our defense and our offense and got better, but just as important was the chemistry and how this team just came together," Hode said. "We started getting together more and just had more fun as a team. And then we just turned it on and pitchers picked up hitters and hitters picked up pitchers."
Le Moyne has won seven straight games and is a worthy opponent according to Hode, who hopes his team doesn't have to battle from behind as it has many times this season.
"We don't like to give people a couple of runs on us, but we know if that happens we are going to come back and get them in the end," Hode said. "You can't get us down and keep us down. We have that never-say-die spirit and attitude."
Arkansas would love to take this tournament by winning three straight games, but Hode says his team won't lose confidence in itself if it suffers an early loss.
"We have been counted out a few times this year, both in games and in series, and came back and gotten it down," Hode said. "That's our mindset this weekend - whatever it takes."
Hode, UA ready for Le Moyne
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