FAYETTEVILLE - Being a No. 3 seed in a four-team tournament can have its advantages.
After two straight seasons of hosting its own NCAA baseball regional, Arkansas hits the road to play in the Stanford Regional in Palo Alto, Cal., beginning today. Once there, the Razorbacks will be the No. 3 seed when they face No. 2-seed Pepperdine at 3 p.m. at Klein Field.
For the Diamond Hogs, that means one thing: The pressure is off.
"Our sense right now is we're just really, really excited to play again," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "So I don't think there'll be any pressure there.
"They just want to play."
In each of the past two years, the pressure might have been a bit too much for the Razorbacks. Because despite hosting their own regional in Baum Stadium in both 2006 and 2007, Arkansas failed to advance out of the first weekend both times even with a decided home-field advantage.
This time around, though, the Razorbacks enter as the underdog. And while it's not an ideal role, Arkansas looks at it as a positive.
"I think a lot of times the three seeds are really dangerous," Van Horn said. "You look back a couple of years, Oral Roberts came in here (to Fayetteville) with a chip on their shoulder and just took it to everybody. Or Oklahoma State last year, they came in here as a No. 3."
Yes, the proof is there. Being a No. 3 seed doesn't always translate into quick tournament exits. Just take 2002 for example, when Arkansas was a three seed in Wichita, Kan., and advanced through to the Super Regional.
And the Razorbacks of 2002 aren't the only ones. In all, 16 No. 3 seeds have made their way to Super Regionals since the field expanded to 64 teams.
"You just never know," Van Horn said. "I do think if you're not the No. 1 seed it takes some pressure off of you. When you're the No. 1, usually you're playing a four seed that nobody knows a lot about. Then you have to decide, do you want to throw your ace or your two or three. So there's a lot of pressure there with that."
Now that the pressure is on the other guys, Arkansas (34-22) enters the Stanford Regional with a more laid back attitude than in prior years. But that doesn't mean the Razorbacks don't like their chances.
"I think we match up real well with all the teams in the regional," senior catcher/designated hitter Jeff Nutt said. "We just have to go out there and play our game and I think we'll be fine."
In Pepperdine (36-19), the Diamond Hogs will be facing a team deep in tradition. But despite the No. 2 seed, the Waves enter the regional limping.
Most notably, outfielder Eric Thames - the West Coast Conference Player of the Year - is out for the season with torn quadriceps muscle in his right leg. And on top of that, Pepperdine staff ace Brett Hunter could be limited this weekend after suffering an arm injury earlier this season.
Still, Van Horn knows even with the injuries, the Waves are a tall order.
"Pepperdine is just very solid," Van Horn said. "I know they had a pitcher (Hunter) in the fall who was throwing extremely hard and making national news. I think he was injured and now he might be back.
"West coast baseball is solid baseball. There's so many talented players out there. They play great defense, pitch it well and you see a lot of small ball on the west coast. And we're kind of the outsider coming in with the three other teams being there on the west coast."
An outsider coming in, with the pressure finally off.
"We're going to go in there with a lot of fire and just to have fun," junior Logan Forsythe said. "It's going to be a great weekend."
Not All Is Lost
Being a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Division I Baseball Regionals doesn't necessarily mean a quick exit from the tournament. Since 1999 when the field expanded to 64 teams, 16 No. 3 seeds have advanced to Super Regionals, with another five making it to the College World Series.
No. 3 seeds in Super Regionals (since 1999)
2000 Penn State, San Jose State
2001 Florida International
2002 Arkansas, Florida Atlantic, Miami, (Fla.)
2003 Houston, Missouri State, Ohio State
2004 Arizona, Tulane
2006 Oral Roberts, Stanford
2007 Louisville, Oklahoma State, Oregon State
No. 3 seeds in College World Series (since 1999)
2000 San Jose State
2003 Missouri State
2007 Louisville, *Oregon State
* - won College World Series title
WHAT: NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament, Stanford Regional
WHEN: Today through Monday
WHERE: Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, Palo Alto, Calif.
TEAMS: No. 1 seed Stanford (33-21-2), No. 2 Pepperdine (36-19), No. 3 Arkansas (34-22), No. 4 Cal-Davis (34-22)
TODAY'S SCHEDULE: Arkansas vs. Pepperdine, 3 p.m. (CT); Stanford vs. Cal-Davis, 7 p.m. (CT)
ON THE AIR: KFAY 1030 AM; KURM 790 AM, 100.3 FM; KHGG 1580 AM, 103.1 FM; KXIO 106.9 FM
TODAY'S PROBABLE STARTERS: Arkansas, LHP Cliff Springston (5-2, 3.83 ERA); Pepperdine, RHP Nathan Newman (7-4, 3.52 ERA)
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