Hogs Keyed Up For Kentucky

FAYETTEVILLE -- Don't expect Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn to give his team a pep talk before tonight's game at Kentucky.

After blowing a six-run lead against LSU a week ago, the No. 23 Razorbacks (33-11, 8-10) went scoreless for the final 23 innings of the series and were swept by the Tigers to fall to ninth in the Southeastern Conference standings.

That kind of motivation can't be found in any speech.

"We don't really have to tell them anything," Van Horn said. "They're a pretty frustrated team and they're ready to break loose and have a great weekend."

Arkansas' three-game series in Lexington, Ky., begins at 5:30 p.m. today in Hagan Stadium, which features a short right-field wall and an average attendance of under 600 in SEC games this season.

The Wildcats (20-19, 3-14) have four players batting .313 or better and are scoring nearly six runs per SEC game. Their pitching has been decent, but not especially dominating after junior right-hander Kalen Gibson (4-1, 5.44), who'll start today's game.

Arkansas will start freshman left-hander Nick Schmidt (5-1, 2.62) for the sixth straight SEC opener. After that, the Hogs have Daryl Maday and Lee Land penciled in to start Saturday and Sunday.

This is the first series the Hogs have entered with all three starters named since dropping two of three games against Mississippi State on March 25-27. They've lost four of their last five SEC series since then, the worst stretch in Van Horn's three seasons.

"Even in the three games we swept against Vanderbilt, we didn't play great," Van Horn said. "We played good enough to hold them down, but we still feel like our better days should be in front of us."

Van Horn said he won't have to remind his Hogs that they're as good or better than other teams that have won series against the Wildcats, such as Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State or Tennessee.

Somehow, the Hogs already have a new-found confidence and are clearly motivated heading into today's series. Some of it comes from a players-only team meeting on Sunday while the rest was built during Tuesday's 5-2 win against Oral Roberts.

Whatever it was, discouraged players less than a week ago now sound encouraged.

"Getting that first run across (against ORU) was big," said Arkansas' Danny Hamblin, who's leading the team with a.309 batting average, 17 RBIs and three homers in SEC play. "Now, we feel like we've got a lot to prove because of the way we were shut out in back-to-back games last weekend."

Oral Roberts was coming off a nine-day break because of finals and used some of their top pitching against the Hogs, including preseason All-American Dennis Bigley.

That's the level of pitching the Hogs will see in their final 12 SEC games and the kind Van Horn said they needed to have success against before going to Kentucky. They ended up with 12 hits, the most since having 13 in last Friday's 10-7 loss against LSU.

"I'd be lying if I said I was happy to see Bigley going out to the mound," Van Horn said. "I knew that the guys knew that and they were focused in. (Bigley) doesn't have overpowering velocity, but he spots it up and down and we took some good swings on him and handled it well.

"That was good to see."

Sunday's team meeting was called by senior third baseman Clay Goodwin and junior pitcher Charley Boyce. The words repeated the most were, "Never give up."

"That is and always has been the motto of this team," Hamblin said. "We've battled so many different things this year that we can't give up. We know we can play better and we will play better. We just have to come together.

"We have four (SEC) series left. A lot can change. Our goal is to host a regional and get back to Omaha (site of the College World Series in Nebraska) and we know we can still do that."

Last weekend's sweep made that task more difficult since the Hogs wouldn't even be invited to the SEC tournament if the season ended today.

"That's why we don't have to give them any pep talks before this weekend," Van Horn said. "They know that we're one of the teams that are fighting and we have to make a move."

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