Hogs Get Back To Basics

FAYETTEVILLE -- Walking into the clubhouse with teammate Jake Dugger before Wednesday's practice, Arkansas catcher Brian Walker squinted while looking up at the blue and white sky above and said, "Looks like a nice day to run."

Turns out, the atmosphere was right all week for the Razorbacks to run as the coaching staff incorporated more conditioning into workouts in preparation for this weekend's series against No. 6 Florida, which starts at 7:05 p.m. today in Baum Stadium.

"I think we got better," said Arkansas senior third baseman Clay Goodwin after Tuesday's workout. "It was good to come out here and really break a sweat. It wasn't as bad as (the predawn workouts in the) fall, it was more of a defensive day and a good team day. It was just as good and maybe better than playing a midweek game.

"Hopefully, it'll carry on into the weekend."

It better be since Arkansas needs to sprint to get back into a Southeastern Conference race that is distancing itself from the Hogs (33-13 overall, 9-12 in SEC play), losers of seven of their last eight SEC games and five of their last six conference series.

"I like the tough workouts .. We needed it," said Hogs slugger Danny Hamblin. "We know our backs are against the wall, but our goal is to make the SEC tournament and hopefully get into a regional."

Arkansas is tied for ninth with Auburn (27-19, 9-12) in the league standings. A rain out has Mississippi State (28-15, 9-11) a half game ahead of both teams for the eighth and final spot in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., from May 25-29.

Arkansas must have more wins in their final nine SEC games than either Auburn or MSU to get into the league tournament, since both teams beat the Hogs in the regular season and own the tiebreaker.

"Our players kind of know that they're kind of the underdogs now and people aren't expecting a whole lot from them," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. "Hopefully, they take that personal."

Last season, Florida (31-13, 14-7) earned an NCAA Regional bid despite not making it to the SEC Tourney, which is a rare situation. However, the Razorbacks could be in the same boat since their power rankings are in the top 10.

"We're still in must-win situations from here on out," said Hogs sophomore Jake Dugger, whose .252 batting average doesn't reflect the number of line drives that were caught in recent games. "You can't rely on any rankings, you have to get a sense of urgency because if we don't win, we could be packing it up in a couple of weeks."

The Hogs will be without the services of second baseman John Henry Marquardt, who underwent arthroscopic surgery Monday to remove damaged cartilage in his right knee. That makes Ben Tschepikow, a freshman from Fayetteville, today's starter at second base. He has improved his batting average to .407 (11 for 27) in recent games and earned the right to start, Van Horn said.

On the mound, Arkansas will start left-handed freshman Nick Schmidt against Florida junior right-hander Bryan Ball (5-2, 2.88).

Florida has risen to the top of the SEC with above average defense and starting pitching and an offense which leads the league in eight of 14 categories. The most dangerous hitters are Matt LaPorta (.339, 17 homers, 53 RBIs) and Jeff Corsaletti (.391, 6 homers, 38 RBIs).

This is the Gators' first trip to Fayetteville since 2000 and they've won five of the last six meetings in Baum Stadium.

"They've got a lot of very good players back," Van Horn said. "They've got a solid team. Florida is a hot bed for baseball players. You play year-round and they've got a great club just like everybody else in this league."

The rest of the Razorbacks rotation will be right-handers Shaun Seibert and Josh Smith on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Walker will catch and call most every pitch against the Gators' hitters this weekend. He already has taken a pounding physically while catching every inning for the Hogs during the last eight games, but he agreed with the others that the extra running this week was well warranted.

"Just get back to the basics," Walker said. "Get back to what we did all fall and get back to doing the little things right. That's the biggest thing right now, we're not doing the little things right that can help you win a ball game.

"The coaches don't like to lose and neither do we. It's tough, but we're just trying to work a little bit harder to get back on the right track."

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