Relationships Key For Razorbacks

FAYETTEVILLE -- From his office overlooking third base in Baum Stadium, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn talked about how relationships could play an important role on this year's team.

"At this level, they've got to believe in each other and trust each other and be a team because it can snowball on you as we've seen happen before," Van Horn said. "But this team is pretty close. If you're out and about in town, you'll see them in groups of 10 to 15 eating out almost every night.

"Our older guys have done a good job of accepting the new guys and it just carries over from year to year."

Strong relationships take time to grow and need nourishing. All except for one player, fifth-year senior pitcher Charley Boyce, were signed by Van Horn and his staff, aiding in the tightness of this group.

All eight projected starters are, at the very least, in their second year with the program. Around the horn, there's sophomore Brian Walker at catcher, junior Danny Hamblin at first base, sophomore Ben Tschepikow at second base, junior John Henry Marquardt at shortstop, junior Blake Parker at third base, junior Jake Dugger in left field, senior Craig Gentry in center field and sophomore Clint Arnold in right field.

"The bonds we have reminds me a lot of my freshman year," said Hamblin, referring to the 2003 team which reached the College World Series. "We were really a strong team even though we maybe weren't that talented.

"But this year, we have that talent to go along with the unity."

Experience is evident on the pitching staff as well with returners like Boyce, Nick Schmidt, Daryl Maday, Trey Holloway, Devin Collis, Shaun Seibert, Lee Land, James Gilbert, Justin White and Brian McClellan reportedly improved. However, newcomer Chris Roads, a junior college transfer who's originally from North Little Rock, is slated to start Friday's opener against George Mason in the South Alabama Tournament in Mobile, Ala.

"We didn't even know that until (Friday)," Van Horn said. "We were planning on going with Charley Boyce, but Charley has had a little set back and has an infection which caused him to miss a couple of bullpens and a couple of outings in our scrimmage. We just felt like we wanted to give him a little more time on the mound."

Besides Roads, other newcomers to look for on the pitching staff are Michael Wild, Chad Coldiron and Brett Bollman. Van Horn said freshmen Wayne Hrozek, a 5-foot-9, 190-pounder from The Woodlands, Texas, and Chris Hollensworth are battling for the team's designated hitter spot. He's also expecting freshmen James Ewing, Logan Forsythe and Michael Smith to help.

Van Horn seems the most excited about the progress of Matt Willard, an infielder who redshirted last season.

"He's probably the most improved player on the team," Van Horn said. "He's going to be the swing man in the infield. He can play second, short, third or he can play outfield and he runs well. The good thing is we'll have him for four years."

On college teams perhaps more than high school, an imaginary wall is put up between pitchers and hitters since 90 percent of their practice time is spent within their respective groups. But this team, like the College World Series squad from two years ago, doesn't seem to have any such division.

Through past experiences with one another, pitchers trust hitters to get the job done in crunch time and vice versa. That kind of trust can only lead to confidence.

"We've got each other's back," Maday said. "It doesn't matter who's at the plate or who's on the mound or who's on defense because everybody can produce and everybody can play their position really well.

"We have that confidence because we've all been around each other."

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