Diamond Hogs Look Ahead

Arkansas opens SEC Tournament play Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. by battling Alabama in Hoover, Ala.

FAYETTEVILLE — Granted, the 2007 baseball regular season didn't exactly end with a bang for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

That was then, though.

This is now.

After sputtering down the stretch — losing each of their final three SEC series — the Diamond Hogs are singing a different tune as they prepare for postseason play. Sure, Arkansas hasn't exactly looked like a juggernaut in the past few weeks, but as it prepares to open up the 2007 Southeastern Conference Tournament at 10 a.m. today, all eyes are focused on the future.

"It's postseason and this is a time of year it's supposed to be fun," Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said. "You work all year for this and I think some guys will step it up.

"Once we get over (Sunday), a bad day, we'll start looking forward to the tournament and the regional and they'll step it up."

Last Sunday, Arkansas — ranked No. 15 in the latest Baseball America poll — hardly looked like a team stepping things up. In a 5-0 loss to Ole Miss in the regular season finale, the Diamond Hogs (38-18, 18-12) appeared almost lifeless, a day after clinching the SEC Western Division crown.

Today, Arkansas better be ready to turn things up a notch as it faces a suddenly red-hot Alabama team. The Crimson Tide (31-24, 15-15) enter the tournament having won six of their final nine SEC games, including taking two of three from the Razorbacks in Tuscaloosa on May 11-13. The Razorbacks have lost six of nine.

For Alabama, the late season run was needed just to stay live for an SEC Tournament berth, and possibly an NCAA Regional bid as well.

"We're aware of that (making the NCAA Tournament) and certainly it's one step at a time," Alabama coach Jim Wells said. "When we got into a position where we knew we were in the (SEC) Tournament, it turned into this is a possibility of some things we have to achieve in the tournament to play after the tournament.

"So the guys are aware of what they have to do. It's a matter of doing it, and it was encouraging that we did what we needed to do this past weekend."

The Crimson Tide are expected to send sophomore Tommy Hunter (7-4, 3.59 ERA) to the mound today. Once Alabama's top bullpen specialist, Hunter — who shut out Arkansas for eight innings on May 11 — has become the team's No. 1 starter over the past month.

"I imagine we'll face Tommy Hunter," Van Horn said. "We saw him about a week ago and he threw extremely well against us and I know he threw extremely well against Mississippi State.

"He's kind of a hot pitcher and we're going to have to get after him."

Arkansas will counter with junior Nick Schmidt (9-3, 3.08 ERA), who hasn't been nearly as sharp as Hunter as of late. In his last three starts — which included a 10-0 loss against Hunter on May 11 — the Razorbacks' lefty is 0-2 with a 6.50 ERA.

For Arkansas to have success against the Tide — and the rest of league at this week's conference tournament — Schmidt will be one of many Diamond Hogs who must turn things around.

"You've got to get them all going," Van Horn said. "You've got to see some consistency and have guys step it up and have some good outings.

"You know, it's time for some guys to get it rolling."



Today's Ticket



2007 SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT

WHO: No. 15 Arkansas vs. Alabama

WHEN: 10 a.m., today

WHERE: Regions Park, Hoover, Ala.

ON THE AIR: KFAY 1030-AM; KYNG 1590-AM; KHGG 1580-AM; KHGG 103.1-FM; KURM 790-AM; KURM 100.3-FM; KXIO 106.9-FM; KTTG 96.3-FM, XM Radio (Ch. 199)

TV: Cox Sports (Cox Ch. 119)

RECORDS: Arkansas 38-18, 18-12; Alabama 31-24, 15-15

THIS SEASON: Alabama won two of three games against Arkansas at Tuscaloosa on May 11-13.

SERIES: Alabama leads, 33-19 (The Razorbacks are 12-12 at home against the Crimson Tide, 6-17 on the road and 1-4 in SEC Tournament games)

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