OMAHA, Neb. — Even on April 7, the Arkansas Razorbacks were declared underdogs. The day before, Collegiate Baseball placed Arkansas No. 1 in its weekly rankings.
But still, senior Scott Lyons heard doubt in students' voices around campus. Arizona State was coming to Fayetteville, bringing along enough perceived talent to keep the Razorbacks from shedding the status they'd carry the rest of the season.
During the Southeastern Conference season, at Oklahoma and Florida State in the NCAA Tournament and now at the College World Series, Arkansas hasn't garnered much respect. And that hasn't bugged Lyons at all as the Razorbacks prepare for their CWS-opener against No. 3 Cal State Fullerton.
"It seems like we've been an underdog all year, no matter where we've been ranked, no matter who we've played," Lyons said. "(Even) in the SEC, it seemed like we were the underdogs. We're fine with that role. It's been working for us all t hrough the playoffs, so we'll take it."
Undoubtedly, the No. 8 Razorbacks will enter Rosenblatt Stadium today for their 1 p.m. contest with more people expecting a loss than a victory. Especially since the start of their eight-game losing streak to finish conference play, praise for the Hogs has been rare.
Few college baseball analysts and fans expected the three-game offensive explosion at Oklahoma, the tournament's No. 7 seed. Few of them foresaw the two-game Super Regional sweep at Florida State. Few certainly are forecasting Arkansas to spark a national-championship run against Titans freshman right-hander Noe Ramirez.
The lack of national confidence, however, has fueled emotions, despite Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn's pleas to always ignore that kind of talk — good or bad.
"It's almost like people don't realize we've played a lot of the best teams in the country," Razorback senior Ben Tschepikow said. "We got to No. 1 in the country. We've seen the best pitchers. We're not going to see anything we haven't seen."
ESPN college baseball analyst Kyle Peterson, a former CWS participant at Stanford, saw ways to argue both sides of whether to classify Arkansas as an underdog.
"When you compare them to Fullerton, it looks uphill," Peterson said. "But there isn't anybody that's going to outclass Arkansas because they've seen everybody in the SEC."
The trend has so maddened sophomore Brett Eibner that he refused to acknowledge Arkansas as an underdog. Before taking the field for the Razorbacks' one-hour practice Friday in Rosenblatt Stadium, Eibner was nearly defiant in defending their credentials.
When asked whether the Razorbacks were long shots to win this week, Eibner sternly responded, "Not really."
"We went to OU and beat a national seed in the regional," Eibner said. "We went to Florida State. We played in the SEC, and we dealt with teams like this all the time. So we're not an underdog. I think we're in contention to win this thing."
Van Horn agrees with Eibner's last statement, more so these days because of how Arkansas responded on the road, in situations where little was expected. The first half of this season, the Razorbacks expected to enter NCAA Tournament play as a favorite.
They intended to host a regional, maybe even a Super Regional. The Razorbacks' late-season swoon ruined those goals but forced Arkansas to respond to adversity — much like they'll need to in Omaha.
"(Being an underdog) is really all we had when the season ended," Van Horn said. "We were given a chance, and we were the underdogs. We weren't the No. 1 seed, and we weren't hosting. Will that help us (here)? It definitely won't hurt us.
"The experience we got the last two weekends in no way can't help us. It20probably toughened us up and gave us confidence."
NCAA COLLEGE WORLD SERIES TICKET
NO. 8 ARKANSAS VS. NO. 3 CAL STATE FULLERTON
WHEN: 1 p.m.
WHERE: Rosenblatt Stadium, Omaha, Neb.
ON THE AIR: KFAY-AM 1030; KURM-AM 790, FM 100.3; FM 103.1; KYNG-AM 1590; KHGG-AM 1580
RECORDS: Arkansas Razorbacks, 39-22; Cal State Fullerton, 47-14.
SERIES RECORD: Cal State Fullerton leads 3-0.
LAST MEETING: Cal State Fullerton beat Arkansas 6-5 on March 7, 1993 in Minneapolis, Minn.
OPENING GAME PROBABLE STARTERS: Arkansas, LHP Dallas Keuchel (7-3, 4.04); Cal State Fullerton, RHP Noe Ramirez (10-1, 2.86).
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