The popping of a catcher's mitt, the pings of aluminum bats, a few thousand fans callin' the Hogs and Larry Shank's voice booming over the public address system.
It's the sounds of baseball finally coming to Baum Stadium as Arkansas hosts Louisiana Tech in a doubleheader beginning at 1:05 p.m. today.
After winning six games in south Alabama and south Texas, the No. 17 Razorbacks are as anxious as their fans for today's game. They've lost only two home openers (Kansas in 1994; Oklahoma State in 1981) in the past 30 years.
"It's good to play at home," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. "It's just going to be nice to play here and not have to travel this weekend and play in front of our fans and on our surface, which is one of the best around."
Louisiana Tech (3-4) is dangerous despite its sub .500 record. The Bulldogs lost two of three games during series against McNeese State and Texas-Arlington. They last beat Grambling State 21-1 at home 10 days ago. Pitching and offense has been inconsistent and eight of the team's 10 errors occurred in two games.
"At one point or another this upcoming weekend, you may see four true freshman in there at one time," said Bulldogs coach Wade Simoneaux. "They're good freshmen that I have to play out there to get their feet wet, but there's been some growing pains as you can expect."
Nonetheless, Simoneaux has pulled off several upsets in his first three seasons with the program using an aggressive style that manufactures runs. He beat No. 4 Rice the last weekend of the 2004 regular season and Oklahoma State earlier that same year. He upset No. 12 Nebraska in 2003.
The Bulldogs also beat Arkansas 10-8 when it was at full strength early last season. It was the Hogs' only loss in the first 18 games.
Simoneaux credits his players for the knack of knocking off top opponents.
"We play a very tough nonconference schedule," Simoneaux said. "Whether we're successful or not, I don't have any trouble getting our players up to play against an Arkansas or a Baylor or a Mississippi State."
The Razorbacks are not at full strength as center fielder Craig Gentry (hand) and shortstop John Henry Marquardt (knee, back) are not expected to play due to injuries. Gentry, who leads off and is second on the team with a .375 batting average, won't hit, but could be used as a late defensive substitute or as a pinch runner. Marquardt will only be used "in a pinch" according to Van Horn.
Jake Dugger, who leads the team with a .440 batting average, will likely move over from left to center field. Van Horn also said he would split starts at shortstop between freshmen Matt Willard and James Ewing. They went a combined 8-for-14 last weekend, but had four errors, including three by Ewing.
Arkansas will start right-hander Charley Boyce (0-0, 5.40) in today's opener and left-hander Nick Schmidt (2-0, 0.00), who hasn't allowed a hit in 12 innings, in the nightcap. Van Horn said the rotation matches up better with the Bulldogs.
"We've played Louisiana Tech the last couple of years and they always seem to play us tough," Van Horn said. "This is their first road game, so it will be interesting to see how they handle our crowd and, on our end, see how we play in front of the home crowd and play in front of a lot of people."
Louisiana Tech will start three right-handers during the series, beginning with junior college transfer Nathan Bounds (0-1, 2.25) in the opener. They'll then go with Jericho Jones (1-0, 8.22) in the nightcap and Luke Burnett (0-1, 2.35) on Saturday. Jones and Burnett are promising true freshmen from Texas.
The loss of starters Ryan Rupert (offseason injury) and Matt Lacey (academically ineligible) has sped the process for the freshmen, even though Lacey could be cleared to pitch when the winter quarter ends today.
"We've got to throw the freshmen into the fire because they're going to be very good before it's over," Simoneaux said. "I know they're our future on the mound and they're only going to get better by going out against good people in a regional-type atmosphere like we'll see this weekend."
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