Note: This story appeared in the Sunday morning edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times. Since that time, Arkansas has been awared a regional.
FAYETTEVILLE — Stephen Robison buried his head in his hands for several minutes after Arkansas was eliminated from the Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 4-3 loss against top-seeded Alabama on Thursday.
Robison remained motionless much longer than the rest of the Hogs' dugout as he was blaming himself for the loss. Had he singled to start a rally instead of striking out in the ninth inning or had he made a routine first-inning catch, the outcome may have been different.
Normally as sure-handed as any Hogs outfielder, Robison lost a pop-up in the sun near the right-field foul line for one of two balls that were misplayed by Arkansas outfielders in the first inning.
It wasn't scored an error and didn't result in any runs, but if he had made the catch, it would have saved starter Daryl Maday some dozen or so pitches in the inning. That means Maday probably could have been able to stay in the game a little longer and the four-run seventh inning — Maday left after giving up lead off single — that spelled Arkansas' demise may have never happened.
"I felt like I let the team down," Robison said. "I felt bad for Daryl for leaving him out there and everything and I apologized to him. I should have made the catch. I saw it the whole way until it got right in the sun.
"It's not a good feeling heading home 0-2."
Coming back with at least one win instead of two losses in the SEC Tourney seemingly would have sealed up an NCAA Regional in Fayetteville. Instead, the Razorbacks (38-19) now have some doubts heading into today's selection of the 16 regional sites.
"We're just really looking forward to the regional," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. "Hopefully, we'll be here. But if we're not, we'll still be ready to go and hopefully, we'll see a lot better team."
The Razorbacks make a strong case for hosting their second regional in three years.
They have quality wins against probable regional teams such as Oklahoma State, Wichita State, South Alabama and Hawaii as well as 18 wins against the SEC, where they finished tied for third overall and second in the Western Division.
The Hogs' RPI is No. 15 in the country, according to BoydsWorld.com. In projected regional hosts by at least two Internet sites (Rosenblattreport.com and SEBaseball.com), the Hogs are listed among the 16 regional hosts. Baum Stadium also leads the nation in actual attendance, adding to its attractiveness.
Van Horn is excited the team is even being considered for a regional after all the adversity it went through with injuries during the season.
"Seven or eight weeks ago, the team was pretty beat up and we were just trying to figure out who could pitch and who we were going to play," Van Horn said. "Then we got it going a little bit and won 10 of our last 15 games. I think that we learned a lot from (the losses in the tourney) and I think you will see a lot more intense team. They'll be focused and ready to go this coming Friday."
Coming into the postseason, Arkansas was the No. 4 team in the SEC and the top four teams from the conference have usually been named regional hosts. However, Ole Miss — a team which beat Arkansas three of four games this season — has been the hottest team in the tournament and will be unbeaten when it plays in today's championship game after upsetting Alabama on Saturday.
That could mean Ole Miss, the No. 5 team in the SEC's regular season, gets bumped up ahead of Arkansas even though the Hogs have a higher RPI. SEBaseball.com lists Ole Miss as among those getting regional bids today, giving the SEC five regionals.
"I predicted they are going to win that tournament with the way they're playing right now," Van Horn said. "In a way, I am (pulling against Ole Miss now). But honestly, I don't know if it's going to make a difference or not. Who's to say.
"Our RPI is pretty good and we feel good about our chances."
Besides the SEC tourney losses, Van Horn knows today's possible selection as regional site would have been a given had the Razorbacks picked up a couple of more games and got to win No. 40.
While conference losses are tough enough, there were a few nonconference losses against Oral Roberts and Missouri State that may have hurt.
"You always look back at that," Van Horn said. "We said to the players all season, ‘Don't let this game slip away because it could cost you,' And it might. If we get away with it this year, hopefully we'll learn from it and not let it happen again.
"But realistically, we played pretty good during the week and we got beat by some pretty good teams. But we should have won a couple of more ball games."
Robison certainly isn't the only one to blame for the team returning from Hoover, Ala., winless. It took a total team effort to lose both games as Robison's ninth-inning strikeout and first-inning miscue was among many for the entire team.
The Hogs pitched well and played decent defense, but spent half of the tournament whiffing at pitches out of the zone as 27 of the 54 outs came on strikeouts. However, they've been strong after losing back-to-back games this season. After the four times it has happened, they've went a combined 11-1 in the following series.
"You never want to lose two game in a row. That's never a great feeling," Robison said. "We just have to bounce back from that like we always have and keep that mindset that we can do it and get rolling again.
"This is the time to do it."
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