Fans Still Believe In Diamond Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn was happy to not be greeted by a lynch mob when he showed up Monday for the monthly Swatter's Club meeting at the Clarion Inn.

None of the loyal, die-hard fans in the capacity crowd even hinted at throwing rotten eggs or tomatoes.

Bravo!

"Thanks for showing up," Van Horn said. "I was kind of concerned today. Coach (Matt) Deggs (the Razorbacks' hitting coach) and I were kind of joking if only four or five people showed up whether I should give my 'A' speech or my 'B' speech."

It was a nice ice-breaker since the Diamond Hogs lost yet another Southeastern Conference series -- this time at lowly Kentucky -- over the weekend.

"I was going to go to Omaha (Neb.) to recruit a pitcher today, but I sent coach (Dave) Jorn (Arkansas' pitching coach) instead," Van Horn said. "I didn't want you guys to think I was running from you.

"I came to take the heat."

No, he wasn't wearing a asbestos suit.

There's no real reason to sugarcoat it, Arkansas hasn't exactly been playing its best baseball of late.

There are several reasons for that:

• First and foremost, the team's two leading hitters, seniors Casey Rowlett (.473) and Scott Bridges (.410), were suspended indefinitely on March 29 for violating team rules.

Van Horn said there's a "slight" chance they'll be back -- "we'll probably know more (next) Monday or it's a dead issue" --and without those two players, the Razorbacks are 12-9.

• Ace reliever Trey Holloway is hoping for a medical redshirt after injuring the elbow in his left (throwing) arm just prior to the SEC schedule.

• Second baseman John Henry Marquardt, who was hitting .379 after replacing Bridges in the lineup, underwent knee surgery Monday.

• Never-been-used, never-been-heard-of-often, but highly recruited freshman left-handed pitcher T.J. Sinovich also is being redshirted, simply because, at times, he can't hit the broadside of nearby Barnhill Arena.

"It all kind of trickles down," Van Horn said. "It affects you. We've been calling ourselves The Incredible Shrinking Team.

"Just to give you an evaluation of where we are, basically you'd have to be under a rock or not be following us to know we've got to have better starting pitching.

"Our starting pitching has been a sore point for us for about a month. You know, our biggest problem this year is giving up the big inning."

Arkansas is 33-13 overall and only 9-12 in the SEC's Western Division, which translates into dead-last.

Gulp!

Gosh, what went wrong?

Last year, en route to a co-SEC championship, new and old fans were booking passage not only to the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., and to Omaha, site of the College World Series.

The dream of a repeat -- for Arkansas fans -- seems impossible if these fightin' Razorbacks don't right this sinking baseball ship. "Titanic" jumps to mind.

Arkansas, which fell out of the Top 25 on Monday, still has to play No. 6 Florida (at home this weekend) and at No. 12 Alabama (the following weekend), then finishes up with red-hot Ole Miss (May 20-22) before all is said and done.

Enough said.

"Our kids are going to be up for the challenge," Van Horn said. "I know our coaching staff has been real positive and they believe they can get it done.

"We're due for some good luck."

"I really believe if we would have had a few guys stay healthy, hang around, we'd be right there with (SEC West leader) Alabama right now. No doubt in my mind. So that's about as much as you'll get out of me all year about ifs and buts."

One thing's for sure, Van Horn, still one of the best college baseball coaches on the planet, isn't running the white flag of surrender up the flag pole.

He's not throwing in the towel and maybe that's why those Swatter's Club fans weren't throwing anything at him Monday.

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

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