Arkansas Prepares For Austin Regional

FAYETTEVILLE -- Somebody let out a yelp in Arkansas' clubhouse as the Razorbacks' bid to the NCAA Regional in Austin, Texas, was announced during an ESPN selection show Monday.

Charley Boyce, the Hogs' do-everything pitcher, didn't even flinch and continued scribbling notes about the three other teams in the regional, which has top-seeded Texas (45-14) playing No. 4 Quinnipiac (26-22) after Arkansas (37-20) opens against No. 3 Miami of Ohio (44-16) on Friday.

Arkansas and Miami (Ohio) play at noon and Texas-Quinnipiac start at 6 p.m.

The rest of the team, staring at two TVs from foldable chairs, quickly followed Boyce's calm disposition after the quick yelp. It seemed they were already trying to focus on the task at hand instead of celebrating the announcement of their season being extended.

"Going (to the College World Series) last year really helped because you realize that if you're playing well, then Omaha (Neb.) is really not that far off," said Boyce, a fourth-year junior. "You mess around and win a couple of games in a regional, then no telling what can happen in a two-team super regional.

"All the sudden, you look up and you're in the College World Series."

Boyce -- as he has been on the mound for most of the season -- was right on. The Hogs only have to be better than four teams (three in the regional and one in a super regional) by winning six of their next eight games to make it to a second consecutive CWS.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn told players shortly after the announcement that Monday's practice would be moved back a couple of hours to 3 p.m. in order to workout in the heat of the day.

Forecasted temperatures in Austin this weekend are around 90 degrees.

"I want you to wear long sleeves and sweats to practice," Van Horn said jokingly to his team. "We need to get back out there in that heat a little bit as we talked about a week or two ago.

"So we'll let it warm up a little bit."

Van Horn apparently had a premonition a couple of weeks ago about Austin, the place where he took his first Arkansas team to a regional in 2003. That year, they were upset twice by Lamar and its super starting pitching.

"I had a feeling we might be going to Austin," Van Horn said. "I told the guys we've got to get used to the heat, play better in the heat and start practicing in the middle of the afternoon."

Like last time in Austin, the Hogs will open against another solid starter in Miami left-hander Keith Weiser (10-0, 2.61). He'll pitch against Razorbacks ace left-hander Nick Schmidt (7-2, 2.88).

Miami (Ohio) is 0-2 all-time against Arkansas, with both losses coming in 2000.

"We got matched up against a great team," said Van Horn, whose team will bus to Austin Wednesday morning. "One of their starters is 10-0 and the other one (freshman right-hander John Ely) is 10-1, so between them, they've got 21 wins. We've got our hands full.

"As a matter of fact, during some of my conference calls with Team USA (Van Horn's one of four coaches on this summer's national team) we've been looking at Miami of Ohio pitchers, so they're very talented.

"Going in, it might even be that they're the favorite."

Texas and Arkansas earned at-large berths in the 64-team NCAA Baseball Championship while Miami (Ohio) and Quinnipiac (located in Hamden, Conn.) are in after winning their respective conference tournaments.

Each of the 16 regionals are double-elimination format with the winner advancing to a best-of-three super regional. Sites for the eight super regionals will be announced a week from today.

The winner of the Austin Regional will face winner of the Oxford (Miss.) Regional where host Ole Miss (44-18) is matched with fourth-seeded Maine (34-17), third-seeded Oklahoma (33-24) and second-seeded Southern Miss (41-19).

Van Horn is familiar with Texas' Disch-Falk Field from the last regional trip there and from the five seasons he spent in the Big 12 as Nebraska's coach. The entire field (including the infield, outfield and even the warning track) is covered by AstroTurf that was reinstalled in 1999. The dimensions are 340-feet to left, 325' to right and 400' to center.

"This is big ballpark, it's hot and it's quick," Van Horn said. "It's going to be a situation where if you don't make very many mistakes and you throw a lot of strikes, you've got a lot better chance of winning. You just don't want to give teams any free passes down there."

Van Horn said he will keep the approach simple with his team this week.

"Our focus is, especially after losing five in a row, just to go back out and get that winning feeling back by winning on Friday," Van Horn said. "Then, we just go from there because anything can happen in this tournament after that."

Nine Southeastern Conference teams, more than any other conference, are in the field for the second straight season with bubble-team Vanderbilt being left out.

"Naturally, being in a league and knowing how good of pitching Vanderbilt has, I was disappointed for their staff and their coach," Van Horn said. "But they're a good talent, they're going to have some high drafts picks coming up here (in next week's Major League Baseball Amateur Draft) and they're probably extremely disappointed."

Should Ole Miss -- No. 5 among the top eight national seeds -- be upset at home, it would open the door for the Austin Regional winner to host a super regional.

Last season, Baum Stadium set a single-game attendance record (10,027) when it beat Florida State in a super regional in Fayetteville.

The whole set up gives the Razorbacks a fresh attitude and a chance to prove losing their last five straight games -- three against the Rebels and two in the SEC Tourney -- was a fluke.

After all, they did win series against overall league champ Florida and Western Division runner-up Alabama earlier this month before losing to both teams by one run in last week's SEC Tournament.

"We've beat the best teams in the SEC so we know we can do it," said Hogs sophomore slugger Danny Hamblin. "Just get some good pitching, get a few timely hits and it's really not as hard as it looks to get to the College World Series if you look at the big picture. You just have to get hot.

"But you can't look at the big picture, you have to focus on what's in front of you and the rest will take care of itself."


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