SEC Baseball Battle In Baum Begins Tonight

FAYETTEVILLE --Buckle your seatbelts. Hang on for dear life. Break out the high blood pressure medicine.

When No. 14 Arkansas meets No. 20 LSU in Baum Stadium at 7:05 p.m. today, things could get pretty nerve-racking.

As a public service announcement, you don't have to dial information for 911.

That number is 911.

Yeah, it might come in handy.

Because each game probably will be a real heartstopper.

This must-see-TV Southeastern Conference baseball series -- it'll be on the tube locally Sunday -- has acid indigestion written all over it.

Somebody bring the Tums.

Still, it might take a shoehorn to get all the fans into the stadium for a matchup of these college titans.

People should be packed like sardines all weekend if the weather is good and Arkansas plays its best.

So, it's highly doubtful Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn will have to worry about people showing up tonight.

Nope, you won't see him wearing a giant sandwich board around his shoulders, walking up-and-down Razorback Road today, begging for a big audience.

"I don't know what promotions are going on," Van Horn said. "I just know it's two good teams playing. I don't think we'll have to hype this series up and not just because of who we're playing."

Strangely, who Arkansas is playing is a team tied for last place in the SEC Western Division standings.

But it's LSU, the Rolls Royce of royal soil in Omaha, Neb., the site of the College World Series, where this team seems to have a timeshare.

That said ...

"There's only one game that separates us (in the SEC standings)," Van Horn said. "This is the time of year coaches have to tell their teams to kick it into high gear because we are at the halfway point of the conference schedule."

Arkansas (31-8) is 8-7 in the SEC West. LSU (26-13) is 7-8.

It's that close.

Wonder why?

Alabama coach Jim Wells has a theory, a theory shared by most SEC coaches in this unpredictable league.

Jim, your turn at bat.

"Obviously, the conference is tougher this year," Wells said. "All the teams are good. It's not always necessarily the best team that wins, but who plays the best on the weekend.

"All teams are balanced and close. It looks like a lot of them are going to hang around. It hasn't been that way in a whole long time, not in 10 or 11 years since I've been around."

LSU, by it's well-earned reputation through the calendars, still is considered the ultimate Goliath.

All others, just a bunch of Davids with a sack full of rocks and a flimsy slingshot, hoping for a good aim.

In many years past, it's been like launching a Scud Missile and hoping it hits something.

Incoming!

Speaking of hitting, that's the subject Van Horn brought up during his weekly news conference.

"Yeah," Van Horn said. "We've got to get some guys going."

He wants to make sure there's not a few counterfeits in that starting lineup at the plate.

Sophomore Jake Dugger, a freshman All-America last year, is hitting only .262. Switch-hitting senior Clay Goodwin is at .283. Both are in the heart of the lineup.

A year ago, Dugger hit .293. Goodwin hit .319.

Meanwhile sophomore first baseman Danny Hamblin, also a freshman All-American a season ago, is leading the hit parade at .375, followed by junior second sacker John Henry Marquardt (.370) and junior center fielder Craig Gentry (.363).

And suddenly, freshman catcher Brian Walker, perhaps the best catch-and-throw -- he's nailed 14 of 25 runners this season -- batterymate in the league, has blossomed at the plate.

Walker finally is above the "Mendoza Line" -- for you young ones, that's above .200 -- at .209.

On Tuesday night, Walker yanked his fourth and fifth home runs -- one was a grand slam -- out of the park at Hammons Field in a 9-4 win against Southwest Missouri State in his team's 14th game in 19 days.

"He came out here tonight to give us the lead and then gave us some insurance runs," Hamblin said. "That's good to see. We're just waiting for some other guys to step up, and they'll do it.

"We're just ready for this weekend."

So, order the pizza but hold the anchovies.

But just remember to bring the Tums.

JERRY L. REED IS A SENIOR SPORTS WRITER FOR THE MORNING NEWS. E-MAIL: JREED@NWAONLINE.NET

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