No Worries For Diamond Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Don't ask Arkansas baseball players about the team they're opening Southeastern Conference play against today at 6 p.m. at Sarge Frye Field in Columbia, S.C.

They may not really want to answer.

"People have been asking, 'How good is South Carolina?'" said sophomore slugger Danny Hamblin. "Well, we're not really worried about how good South Carolina is. We work as a team and play as a team."

That's been obvious through 17 games and senior Casey Rowlett explained exactly what the No. 15 Razorbacks' team concept is about.

"We worry about us first," said Rowlett, who's riding a 16-game hitting streak. "If we stay with our game plan and our approach and we throw strikes to make them put the ball in play while still playing defense and then, just stay with the approach at the plate and we'll put up runs. That's where we're going to have success."

Of course, the Hogs (16-1) are well aware the No. 4 Gamecocks (16-1) have played in the past three College World Series and appear to be as solid as ever.

The fans certainly are and the rise in the Razorbacks' popularity has made this a "big game" to most everyone the players run into around campus. Still, the coaches implore a business-as-usual attitude with the players.

"It's a big game probably more to the fans than it is to the players," Van Horn said. "The way we look at it is, we're going to go down there and do everything we can to win that series and win them all. But we also know we've got 27 more conference games.

"We're not getting all hyped up. The kids aren't going crazy over it and we're not trying to make it out to be, 'If we don't win a couple of games, people aren't going to think we are any good' because that won't be the case at all.

"We have a good team."

As underdogs each time, Arkansas has won four out of seven games against South Carolina since Van Horn took over the program in 2003 after long-time coach Norm DeBriyn retired.

Gamecocks ninth-year coach Ray Tanner, who beat Van Horn and Nebraska 10-8 in the 2002 CWS, said he's never enjoyed playing Arkansas.

"I've always had a tough time with Arkansas," said Tanner, who's 11-14 against the Hogs. "Coach DeBriyn, he beat me plenty of times and coach Van Horn has been very successful against us. I have great respect for coach Van Horn, the way he runs his program and the way his guys compete."

On paper, South Carolina has put up gaudy offensive power numbers as usual. They've hit 27 homers in 17 games and boast a .560 slugging percentage. They're averaging 11.9 hits and 9.2 runs per nine innings.

Two Gamecocks are hitting over .400 in Jon Willard (.471) and Steven Tolleson (.415) and Brendan Winn leads the league with eight home runs and the team with 24 RBIs.

"We have just as good of athletes as they do," Van Horn said. "They play a little bit different game because they recruit to that ballpark that's a little bit smaller so they've got some big guys.

"They're just going to sit back and try to hit three-run homers and we've got to stay away from that."

With so many similarities, Tanner hopes the difference in putting them over the top could be in the Gamecocks' starting pitching.

Senior right-hander Aaron Rawl (4-0, 2.25) starts tonight against Arkansas freshman Nick Schmidt (3-0, 2.45).

"Our starting pitching, we're not going to have a first-round draft choice but I'm anxious to see how we fare in the SEC when maybe some people have better starting pitching than we do," Tanner said.

As for the Razorbacks, they're just going to focus on what they can control during the three-game series.

"We talk about that all the time. It's about how we play," Van Horn said. "If we play good defense, if we put the bat on the ball, if we get the opportunity to run on people, then they have to worry about us.

"We're not going down there just to try to win a game, we're going down there to win and be in every game and hopefully, win them all.

"We know that's going to be real tough, but that's the mentality you've got to take in this league or you're in trouble here."

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