Freshmen bring leadership

Arkansas' freshman class has been outstanding on the field in helping the Razorbacks to their first College World Series since 2004. Its lofty expectations has also been a welcomed addition.

FAYETTEVILLE - The rarity of making it to the College World Series isn't lost on Arkansas catcher James McCann.

The Santa Barbara, Calif., native has heard the stories from fifth-year senior infielder Ben Tschepikow and other upperclassmen about how tough the road to Omaha has been in years past. As a freshman he's made it further in his first year than any of his older teammates.

"I feel extremely fortunate," McCann said. "You know we've got a great team and a great opportunity; that's why I chose to come to the University of Arkansas because we have that chance and that ability to go to Omaha and win a national championship.

"I'm extremely happy for the guys like Tschepikow and (Chase) Leavitt. This is their last shot at it and they've gotten it. I'm really proud for those guys."

The Razorbacks (39-22) punched their ticket to Omaha Saturday with a 9-8 come-from-behind win over Florida State to sweep the Tallahassee Super Regional and record Arkansas' fifth consecutive win.

McCann is one of a talented crop of newcomers that has contributed for Arkansas during that span. The list also includes third baseman Zack Cox, second baseman Bo Bigham and outfielder Collin Kuhn – all starters during Arkansas' postseason run.

"I told them, ‘Y'all are freshmen and you get to go to the College World Series your first year and it took me 10 years to get here,'" Tschepikow laughed. "I'm proud of them that they're getting to go and hope to see them go in the future.

"They haven't acted like freshmen," he continued. "We've called upon them to do a job and they've all done their job. It's been a total team effort, but those young guys have done a great job because they aren't acting their age. Honestly, I don't know if anybody even looks at them as freshmen anymore.

"They've helped us so much in the postseason. As a freshman the hardest thing is consistency but in the postseason they've done a great job and stepped up, and they're a big part of the reason we're going to Omaha."

While making it to Rosenblatt Stadium in year one sets high expectations for the rest of the newcomers' tenure, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said those expectations are presented up-front.

"We feel like being here we can recruit the type of kids that can get you to Omaha," Van Horn said. "When I'm sitting in a recruit's living room, I'm talking about Omaha and if that scares them I don't want them coming here. I want them to work hard enough to get to Omaha.

"You've got four years to get to Omaha when you go to college and most of the players that are pro prospects will sign after their junior year, so they really only have three.

"It's nice to get there," Van Horn continued. "Next year's team will have a sense of what it's all about. The older guys will definitely have that experience and be able to pass it on. It'd be nice to put a string together of consecutive years."

The coach can build his aspiration of championship appearances around the likes of McCann, who personifies the same dream.

"My goal at the beginning of the year was to win and go to the national championship," McCann said. "Our confidence is extremely high. We feel like we can beat anybody in the nation. It's going to be a lot of fun as we head into Omaha and face the best teams."

The team captain Tschepikow said that attitude from the freshman class has been a welcomed addition.

"Sometimes you don't expect a lot from a freshman," Tschepikow said. "I remember playing as a freshman they don't really look for you to get the team going or anything like that. But if you go out, work hard, have fun and play the right way, things will work out for you.

"It's worked out for us this year."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories