Hogs Set For Home Opener

FAYETTEVILLE -- Mutual respect among college baseball coaches can make the game within the game much more exciting than home runs or strikeouts.

There's plenty of respect between Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and Minnesota coach John Anderson, but they'll be trying to outcoach one another when their teams hook up in Baum Stadium for a three-game series starting today at 2:35 p.m.

The coaches will be puppet masters. Van Horn pulls a string and senior Scott Bridges steals second base. Anderson pulls another and starting pitcher Josh Krogman throws an 0-2 fastball high and tight.

Because of history, each knows first hand how the other may play it in certain situations, which will make today's game as exciting for them as any of the players or thousands of fans expected to attend.

"I think we enjoy competing against one another," said Anderson, who begins his 24th season at Minnesota. "I have great respect for Dave and the job he's done. His teams are always well-coached. They play aggressively and they play hard.

"You always know you're going to have your hands full against one of Dave's teams."

It's the Razorbacks' home opener after winning six of seven games during road trips to Texas and Louisiana. Nine of their next 10 games will be in Baum Stadium.

Minnesota is playing its season opener and is coming off winning three straight Big 10 regular season titles. Baseball America, which ranks the Big 10 as the ninth toughest conference, picked the Gophers to win their fourth straight league title this season.

"The key for us is to be ahead late in the game," said Van Horn. "They like to run, they play solid defense and they are experienced, so I see two teams which kind of mirror each other.

"It should be a good series."

Minnesota lost its top two starting pitchers, but returns eight starters (including six all-conference performers) off last season's 38-23 team. Four returners hit .340 or better led by leadoff man Sam Steidl (.372, 20 stolen bases) and Andy Hunter (.366, 10 homers).

Krogman, a right-hander who had Tommy John surgery two years ago, is the most experienced Gophers pitcher with 12 starts and a 3-1 record last season. The fifth-year senior goes up against Hogs freshman Nick Schmidt, a left-hander who has allowed one earned run with 10 strikeouts in 10 innings.

"I do think we have a chance to have a competitive team again," Anderson said. "We have good arms, but it's just that some are inexperienced right now, so as we gain some experience on the mound, we should continue to improve."

Van Horn is 3-4 as a head coach against Anderson. They first met in Van Horn's debut at Nebraska when the Gophers swept a three-game series in the 1998 season opener. Van Horn exacted some revenge with a 4-1 win in the 2000 Minneapolis Regional and by winning two of three games against Minnesota in 2002 on the Huskers' run to a second straight College World Series appearance.

Even though he'll be competing against an astute adversary, Van Horn said he won't be nervous before today's first pitch.

"When we're playing a team we are supposed to win against, I get a little more uptight," Van Horn said. "When we are playing really good teams, to me, I like that. I feel like if we get beat, we get beat by a team that is a quality team and I can live with that a little bit.

"We don't want to lose, it's disappointing if we do, but I like playing a good team."

The teams aren't scheduled to play again until 2007, when the Hogs plan to travel to the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., for the Gophers' annual Dairy Queen Classic in early March.

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