Arkansas Makes Quick Exit From SEC Tournament

HOOVER, Ala. -- This past week has been a total eclipse of the heart for Arkansas baseball fans.

Since last weekend, the Diamond Hogs have lost five straight games, including two straight here this week in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

And frankly, loyal Razorbacks fans watched their team stink up the joint in the process.

Actually, that's not really true. It only looks that way on the surface to the naked eye.

Arkansas, the eighth and final seed, did go belly up in the SEC Tournament, losing 9-8 against top-seeded Florida on a choke job which would have made the Boston Strangler proud.

Then followed that up with flimsy 5-4 loss against Alabama in a Thursday matinee.

Granted, these Piggies got here by the hair of their chinny, chin, chins but deserved the invite, nonetheless.

In reality, Arkansas didn't do all that bad here this week despite taking a powder after only two games.

Still ...

"You know, we lost two games, two close games," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. "One of them we let slip away, the other one we could have won. We could easily be 2-0 right now. Who knows? At least 1-1."

Was it really worth it?

"Oh, yeah. I'm excited for our young players that got to play in this tournament, build for the future. Think we had three or four freshmen in the lineup both days. Guys could get some experience and it was good for the older guys, too. Have a chance to come back, hopefully have a chance to play in a regional. You know, just looking forward to next week.

"I think the scoreboard is going to be a little bit different."

Question is, where will that scoreboard be?

We know it won't be in Baum Stadium, unless Hell freezes over in early June, where Arkansas enjoyed its finest hours last year en route to a trip to Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series for the first time in 15 years.

We don't know if it will be Lincoln, Neb.; Austin, Texas; Waco, Texas; or Corvallis, Ore.

We will know Monday when the NCAA Tournament pairings are announced.

House money is on Lincoln, only because Van Horn cut his teeth as a big-time coach at Nebraska before the moving van brought him back home to Arkansas three seasons ago.

"Oh yeah, I think we'll get a bid," Van Horn said. "I think all eight teams in the (SEC ) tournament will. Maybe a couple of more from our league."

So, what went wrong this week?

"We didn't finish," said Razorbacks catcher Brian Walker. "We played good baseball, but not for a full nine innings."

That, coupled with the fact the pitching -- save starter Nick Schmidt and part-time starter Charley Boyce -- left Arkansas about as defenseless as a bank guard with a water pistol.

"Really," Boyce said. "I guess we had some bad luck, too."

Ya think?

Schmidt left with an 8-2 lead after seven innings Wednesday night. Boyce gave up only one hit -- albeit the game-winner -- in five innings of relief Thursday after being part of the cattle call from the bullpen the night before.

And the Razorbacks still lost.

It was mighty hard to watch in person.

Strangely enough, watching this team has become an addiction for devoted Razorbacks fans, who oddly enough, haven't already started private pity parties.

Lord knows how much better this club could have been had seniors Casey Rowlett and Scott Bridges not violated a team policy and reliever Trey Holloway hadn't been lost for the season before the SEC schedule started because of a wounded left wing.

Despite this soap opera, this still is a pretty good bunch.

Yeah, recently the Razorbacks' pitching has been nothing short of "Forty Minutes of Smell" -- stretched over a couple of innings -- and yeah, Arkansas bats have been more silent than Harpo Marx without his honker.

But there's something very intriguing about this ballclub. Something special.

It STILL thinks it can win when it counts and it really counts, starting Monday when we'll all know where these Hogs are headed.

And don't bet against them.

Why?

Because of Dave Van Horn's earlier statement.

"I think the scoreboard is going to be a little bit different."

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


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