Hogs Face Tough Assignment Against Crimson Tide

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas is trying to get into the Southeastern Conference Tournament while No. 13 Alabama is trying to keep it out.

Arkansas, the defending SEC Western Division champion, finds itself in a position to be on the outside looking in.

If the Razorbacks don't start winning consistently -- and in bunches -- beginning at 6:30 p.m. today in Sewell-Thomas Stadium, they could be in deep trouble.

It won't be easy against the Crimson Tide.

Arkansas hasn't won in Tuscaloosa, Ala., since 1995. That translates into a 12-game losing streak, including four sweeps.

This is only third-year Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn's second trip to Tuscaloosa.

"It wasn't a very good trip last time, but we'll try to do better this time," Van Horn said. "There really wasn't a very good crowd two years ago, to be honest with you. There really weren't very many people in the stands, but the ones that were there, you could hear everything they were saying.

"They were young and they got pretty personal with a lot of people on the team."

Alabama (34-16, 14-10 in the SEC), which failed to qualify for the eight-team tournament last year, is tied for first with No. 16 LSU in the SEC West.

For Arkansas (35-14, 11-13) to be successful this weekend, it must rely on freshman left-hander Nick Schmidt (7-1, 2.45 earned run average) to get it comfortably out of the gates tonight.

Schmidt is the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week. Righty Shaun Seibert (5-1, 2.82) will start Saturday. Seibert will face left-hander Brandon Belcher (4-0, 4.53).

Sunday's game, rescheduled for 11 a.m.,will be broadcast on CSS.

"We are excited about the upcoming weekend and really need the support of our many loyal fans," said Alabama coach Jim Wells. "Arkansas is a very good team and our team needs three big crowds this weekend as we play another very tough SEC series."

It is possible Arkansas, Auburn and Vanderbilt could wind up in a tie for the final spot in the SEC Tournament.

Auburn took its series against the Arkansas (April 1-3). Arkansas swept Vandy at home (April 8-10), but since Auburn and Vanderbilt didn't play each other this season, that nullifies the head-to-head tiebreaker.

So, Vanderbilt could slip in the backdoor because it won its series against No. 9 Tennessee (35-14, 15-8), the SEC overall leader, while Arkansas and Auburn both lost those series.

It doesn't end there, but none of these scenarios matter at this point.

"Yeah, it's still too early," Van Horn said. "I haven't looked at it. I'm not going to say our staff hasn't looked at it. To me, you know, more toward Sunday night we'll have an idea of what we have to do next weekend (at home against No. 22 Ole Miss).

"Hopefully, we'll go out and play well this weekend and give ourselves a chance. Not only to try and get into the tournament but also get back in the middle of the pack, give us a chance to get into a regional."

For the record, Auburn (29-20, 11-13) plays at Georgia (25-22, 9-14) this weekend and finishes the regular season hosting Alabama (May 20-22). Vanderbilt (30-15, 11-13) plays at Kentucky (26-22, 6-17) and finishes up against No. 11 Florida (32-17, 15-9) at home the next weekend.

"We can't be concerned with what other teams are doing right now," said Razorbacks senior shortstop Scott Hode. "We just have to go out there and take care of business.

"We control our own destiny."

Alabama's team batting average (.292 ) ranks eighth in the SEC while its 3.63 ERA is tied for sixth. The Crimson Tide's pitching staff does lead the league in strikeouts with 9.5 per nine innings.

Arkansas is scoring seven runs per game and hitting .313 (third in the SEC) with 51 home runs. The Razorbacks' pitching staff boasts the SEC's fifth-best ERA at 3.59 and are holding opponents to a .250 batting average.

"This is the time we will have to turn it up," said Hogs catcher Brian Walker. "This team has battled back all season long.

"This team has a lot of heart."




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