UA Coaches Break Down Regional Opponents

FAYETTEVILLE -- One of the most exciting -- and sometimes frightening -- things about coaching in an NCAA Baseball Regional is the anticipation of the unknown.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and his staff tries to make it a more accurate guessing game by dissecting statistics sheets and data from other sources, such as coaching acquaintances who may have faced any of the three other teams in this year's Austin (Texas) Regional, where the No. 2 Razorbacks (37-20) open Friday at noon against No. 3 Miami of Ohio (44-16).

"You don't go in completely blind," Van Horn said. "You look at Miami (Ohio) and they've played Alabama three times (beating the Tide twice) and they've played Kentucky twice (actually once), so we've talked to those schools and asked around at other schools about their players.

"We just try to find out as much as we can."

The first thing coaches did after regional sites were announced Monday was jump on the Internet and start printing out every bit of information they could find about the teams in Austin.

"It was a deal where we we're banking on going already," said Hogs assistant coach Matt Deggs. "Then when you do get the call, the next thing you do is try to figure out how to win the regional and we feel confident going down that if we play good baseball, we've got a chance."

Deggs must find out everything he can about an opponent since he's the Hogs' hitting instructor and also in charge of positioning the defense. He relies on stats sheets, but not as much as he does his own eyes after he's watched a team through the lineup a time or two.

Coaches can't tell from stats sheet whether a guy is a pull or a spray hitter or whether a batter hammers first-pitch fastballs or a pitcher often throws his slider away as a strikeout pitch.

"Stats sheets can be deceiving, and that's the scary thing," Deggs said. "You may see a team hitting .280 as a club, but they've got 75 jacks (home runs) and they're slugging .550, so you can take the .280 and throw it out the window.

"It's somewhat of an optical illusion. What you see on paper is not always there."

During conference play, coaches have built books, or scouting reports, on opposing players from their freshmen seasons on since they face the same guys every year. But in a regional, much less is known about the opponents.

"Sometimes it's not bad just to go in and play your game," Deggs said. "Sometimes you can out-think yourself and it's better just to go play your style of baseball.

"There's not a whole lot you can find out without seeing them anyway."

As far as the teams in Austin, Van Horn already knows plenty about Texas and it's coach Augie Garrido, the all-time winningest coach in Division I. Van Horn coached against the Longhorns and remembers some their tendencies during his five seasons at Nebraska.

Top-seeded Texas (45-14) , which opens against No. 4 Quinnipiac (26-22) at 6 p.m. Friday, also beat the Hogs 13-2 in last season's College World Series opener.

"(Garrido) will try to manufacture (runs) and he has since he's been at Texas because he's had some pretty good pitching," Van Horn said. "They always play good defense and have a lot of depth. And if he has the chance to get the lead on you, he'll play small ball and bunt or steal some bases and even safety squeeze people in."

Van Horn also knows a few things about Miami (Ohio). He's been scouting the Redhawks' talented pitchers (they're top three starters are a combined 26-1) as one of four coaches on this summer'sTeam USA squad. Sophomore left-hander Keith Weiser (10-0, 2.61) will start Friday against Arkansas freshman left-hander Nick Schmidt, who has been invited to try out for the squad along with teammate Danny Hamblin.

Deggs said the biggest hurdle will be getting past Miami (Ohio) in the opener.

"What makes Miami (Ohio) dangerous is just like any mid-major that reaches the tournament, they're always going to have a good arm (pitcher) or two," Deggs said. "When you get in a situation in tournament play and an opponent has a quality arm, it can be a gigantic factor just like when we throw (UA pitchers Nick) Schmidt or (Charley) Boyce.

"You take a Nick Schmidt and he can beat anybody on any given night and that's a lot of what Miami (Ohio) is about."

The only thing Van Horn knows about Quinnipiac, pretty much, is the school is located in Hamden, Conn.

"You can see a little of what they do in batting practice, but some guys are just better in the game so you can make mistakes," Van Horn said. "So you kind of have to go off the scouting reports a little bit, but we have to rely on what you see as well.

"But most of it is a guessing game ... An educated guessing game."

Because so little is known heading in, defense can be the only aspect that can be controlled and it must be sound for a team to win a regional. That could be even more important this weekend since Texas' Disch-Falk Stadium is spacious and plays fast with an AstroTurf surface, which can make hard grounders reach the wall and turn singles into doubles.

It will be Arkansas' second trip there to play in a regional after going 1-2 in the 2003 Austin Regional.

"This is a 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."

After Friday, most the research the coaches have done this week will be tossed aside. From the stands, they'll put together a better scouting report on both Texas and Quinnipiac when the teams hook up Friday night.

"Once the game starts, the scouting reports don't matter a whole lot other than maybe a tendency, what (pitch) count they may try to run in or when they might try to sacrifice or things like that," Deggs said. "I look at swings and if they're fouling everything off over their dugout, then we'll make an adjustment. The same guy that was pulling everything in a different league that comes in and faces Nick Schmidt or whoever, he's not necessarily going to be a pull hitter.

"But you can't pay too much attention to it. Bottom line, you still have to go play your style of baseball and make the opponent have to worry about what you do and stop what you do.

"That's the attitude we'll have to take this weekend."

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