Diamond Hogs Hit The Road

FAYETTEVILLE -- Remember when a big kid in school got into a fight with a little kid?

The big fella quickly found himself in a lose-lose situation. If he won, oh well, big deal, he's bigger and supposed to win. But if he somehow lost, well then, the whelps from punches on his face often would be followed by an embarrassing red blush ... As it should.

That's pretty much the situation Arkansas finds itself in during a pair of mid-week, non-conference games beginning at 7 p.m. today against Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Okla. The No. 10 Razorbacks (27-6 overall) then host Southwest Missouri State at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday in Baum Stadium before hitting the road for a three-game series at Tennessee this weekend.

Of course, third-year Hogs coach Dave Van Horn doesn't plan on leaving ORU's J.L. Johnson Stadium in Tulsa tonight with any red on his face. As always, he battles to win regardless of the opponent.

"We'd like to win 40 games by the end of the season," Van Horn said. "Or, at least that many heading into the postseason. But we take it 10 at time. You get to 10, then you get to 20, and then it gets a little tougher to get to 30 and 40, naturally, because of conference play.

"So these mid-week games are important to win."

Oral Roberts is a little guy that has snuck in some big punches despite its 19-13 record. The Golden Eagles led the nation in winning percentage (.820) a year ago with a 50-11 record. They've proved they can play with the big boys this year by beating Baylor, splitting two games with Wichita State and winning two of four at Miami (Fla.) two weekends ago.

"We still haven't played very well, we're still scuffling," said ORU coach Rob Walton. "We've got five top 20 wins and I think three of the five are in the top 10. When we play well, we can play with some people, but we just have to put together four or five games like that in a row where we've got good pitching, played good defense and scored some runs."

Last season, Oral Roberts split with Arkansas, winning 8-4 in Tulsa, but losing 6-4 in Fayetteville. Today's probable starting pitchers will be ORU 6-foot-4 right-hander Dane Towery (2-1, 2.61) against Hogs sophomore left-hander James Gilbert (3-0. 2.91).

Some starters are banged up, but the Golden Eagles are still scoring 5.9 runs per game led by Tim Torres (.320) and Jon Tackett (.314). There also is spark plug Michael Holliman hitting .282 with 26 RBIs, 4 homers and 15 stolen bases.

"I don't play these games for any other reason than I want to get better," Walton said. "I want to play coach Van Horn and Arkansas every year because we know win or lose, we're going to get better simply by playing them."

Arkansas continues to be without the services of senior starters Casey Rowlett and Scott Bridges, who were hitting .473 and .410, respectively, when they were suspended indefinitely March 29 for violations of an unspecified team policy.

Rowlett's lofty batting average is 48 points better than Jeremy Jackson's school-record .425 set in 1997. But should he not return, Rowlett would come up two at-bats shy of the 95 needed to qualify for the single-season record.

It took the Razorbacks only two losses at Auburn to figure out they could win minus Rowlett and Bridges. They also lost senior closer Trey Holloway to injury (he'll be out at least six weeks after elbow surgery), but have come together for six straight wins.

"We're winning games," Van Horn said. "We lost two good players there all the way around -- offensively, defensively and leadership. We struggled at Auburn, but we picked it up and it was huge to get a couple of wins.

"I think the guys realized that we can win with what we have. We may not be quite as talented we were, but we've got to go with what we've got."

Craig Gentry has filled in handsomely for Rowlett in center while John Henry Marquardt is holding his own with some key hits and diving stops at second base in Bridges' old spot.

As far as active Razorbacks, everyone seems to be heating up lately led by Danny Hamblin (.352), Clint Arnold (.330) and Clay Goodwin (.286) while Jake Dugger has been the most productive with 35 RBIs and 7 homers to go along with a .305 batting average.

But those regulars may not play much during the next two games, so expect to see guys like Brock Bond, Ben Tschepikow and Chris Hollensworth, who only pinch ran during this weekend's sweep against Vanderbilt because of a sprained hand which has recovered.

"It'll be good to get some guys in the lineup that don't play every day," Van Horn said. "Hopefully, they will get some good at-bats and stay sharp, so if we need them, we'll use them."

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