UnderHogs Set Sights on Winning It All

Arkansas (45-22) hopes to continue its miracle run when it and Texas (55-13) battle Friday night at 6 p.m. on the opening day of the College World Series, which will happen June 18-28 in Omaha.

Then came Sunday and they rested.

A day after taking down Florida State 4-2 before an NCAA Super Regional record crowd of 10,027 fans at Baum Stadium and clinching a berth in the College World Series, the University of Arkansas players and coaches got the chance to spend the day just relaxing and reflecting.

That certainly beat the alternative of playing a stress-filled third game with the Seminoles for the right to go to Omaha, Neb., for baseball's version of the Elite Eight.

"What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon," Arkansas pitcher Charley Boyce said. "We've just been thinking about how much fun this season has been, watching to see who else is getting the CWS and also talking about how the task is not done. We are not just happy to get there. Teams who are will go up there, play two and come home."

The Razorbacks (45-22), one of four SEC teams who will comprise exactly half of the CWS field in an event that will run June 18-28, will begin their quest for the national title on Friday.

It was announced Monday that eighth-seeded Arkansas will battle old foe and 2002 national champ Texas (55-13) Friday at 1 p.m. in Rosenblatt Stadium.

"We've just played great together as a team and believed in each other all year," Arkansas catcher Brady Toops said. "Now we believe we will find a way to get it done in Omaha."

Top-seeded Texas, whose batting average was not as high as Arkansas' during the season, came alive with the bats this past weekend by demolishing Vanderbilt to the tune of 25-5 in a pair of Super Regional games at Austin on Friday and Saturday.

"They're really a fundamental team and they are going to bunt a lot - push bunt and squeeze bunt - hit-and-run and steal," Van Horn said. "They play in a big ballpark and against Vandy, they hit the ball as well as they have hit all year , probably better than they have all year. They hit a lot of home runs, drove the ball and scored a lot of runs off some good pitchers."

The Razorbacks will continue in their underdog role against a Texas, a team that former Nebraska coach Van Horn knows very well and he does respect Longhorns coach Augie Garrido.

"They have players on their bench that a lot of people would like to have in their starting lineup," Van Horn said. "He's got a lot of weapons to go to and some very good pitching. We've got our hands full, but we always have our hands full. We are just looking forward to playing on Friday."

Arkansas may start righty Boyce (10-2, 3.10) instead of normal Friday night southpaw starter Clint Brannon (4-3) against Texas, who will likely send out ace J.P. Howell (14-2, 2.26 ERA).

"It's not set in stone," Van Horn said of the Boyce start. "It's still up in the air. But it definitely makes more sense to go with a righty instead of a lefty against Texas."

Howell, with 153 strikeouts in 123-plus innings, is part of a staff that tries to get ahead in the count and have you chasing pitches outside of the strike zone after that.

The other two top pitchers are Justin Simmons (10-3, 4.31), Sam McClure (9-3, 2.40, 108 Ks) with Hutson Street (5-1, 1.46. 12 saves) serving as a brilliant closer.

"They are going to try and pitch and pitch and pitch and we have just got to lay off balls in the dirt," Van Horn said.

With Van Horn's coaching experience in the Big 12, with coaching friends who have played Texas this season and having been in the same regional as the Longhorns last season, Arkansas feels good about what its scouting report will turn up.

"It would be easier to get a scouting report on Texas than it would somebody like Florida State or the East Coast teams," Van Horn said. "There are a lot of teams in this area that have played them. We played down there last year and didn't get to play them, but they have a lot of those same kids back."

Van Horn said part of getting to the CWS sunk in last night and then he realized how happy he was for his older guys when he came back to the ballpark this morning - after not getting much sleep - for an interview with the Omaha newspaper.

"I am just really happy for the older guys, the seniors and maybe a junior that is going to sign because this is their last shot," Van Horn said. "The younger guys, well, we feel like we are going to be knocking on the door the entire time they are here."

Van Horn thought the crowd last weekend inspired his team and this week bothered Florida State.

"It was a big motivational factor," Van Horn said. "I think the crowd was a bigger factor last week when we had to play doubleheaders and you need a little adrenaline shot now and then. I think what the crowd did - it fires up the team - but what it also does is it bothers the other team and I think it really bothered Florida State."

The CWS format has the final two teams playing a 2-of-3 series for the championship beginning on June 26.

Van Horn would love to have his team, picked 11th in the 12-team SEC, to finish off its miracle run by taking it all. He knows he has to get them down from last weekend first.

"You think wow, we did it, now we have got to past this and move on to the thought of let's go win it and not just be happy to be there," Van Horn said. "...We've got to get that across to the players...Hey, if we win this we have done all we could, but you have to get it done when it is your turn to play."

(The Morning News sports writer Mike Capshaw also contributed to this story.)


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