Hogs open SEC with defending champs

Andy Wilkins leads No. 13 Arkansas south this weekend for a big three-game series at No. 7 LSU.

It's a new season but Arkansas players haven't forgotten how 2009 ended.

The Razorbacks were outscored 24-6 in a pair of losses to LSU at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., ending the team's dream of its first national championship, one the Tigers went on to win.

The No. 13 Razorbacks get their first chance at retribution this weekend when they travel to the bayou for a three-game series against the No. 7 Tigers.

"That's always in the back of your mind and you're going to want to go get after them right away," Arkansas outfielder Collin Kuhn said. "It's the first series in SEC play and that's also very big. We want to go out and take it to them right away.

"It's kind of exciting for us. We always want to play the best teams to see how we stack up. Who else is better to do that against besides LSU?"

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he understands the anticipation heading into Friday night's 7 p.m. first pitch, but said it's important to keep things in perspective.

"It's three games and they all count the same, but obviously we're playing the defending national champion so it brings a little more hype to it," Van Horn said. "It's a couple of ranked teams and a couple of teams that squared off in Omaha. That was our last game that we played last year when they eliminated us from Omaha so there's always stuff out there in the back of the players' mind. As far as coaches we just want to win on Friday and go from there. We know we've got to come play Alabama next weekend so it's blown up a little more than it probably should be, but it's probably that way across the league when you're opening conference."

The players have heeded their coach's warning.

"It's the beginning of the SEC and that's what we're taking from it," Razorback first baseman Andy Wilkins said. "Yes, it is LSU and it will be a big atmosphere; it won't feel like just a regular SEC game, but that's all it is. It's the beginning and we need to come out and try to win a few games."

The Razorbacks (12-3) enter the game on the heels of four consecutive wins, including a 3-2 win in 10 innings over Wisconsin-Milwaukee last Sunday in which freshman Matt Vinson hit a walk-off home run.

LSU (14-2) lost two of three in a series with Kansas last weekend at home. The Tigers will once again be without all-American pitcher Anthony Ranaudo this weekend as the right-hander continues to nurse an injured throwing elbow.

"I'd say it's a little disappointing because we always want to play the best pitchers," Kuhn said. "You have to beat the best to get to a national championship and win a national championship and the more games you see of that caliber, the better it prepares you for later down the road."

Instead the Tigers are expected to throw Austin Ross in the first Friday night start of his career. LSU's pitching staff is looking to bounce back after giving up 21 runs in three games to the Jayhawks.

Arkansas will throw Mike Bolsinger in the Friday night game, followed by Drew Smyly and Brett Eibner for the fourth consecutive weekend. The Razorbacks haven't dropped a weekend series this season.

"Our bullpen has done a pretty good job and that was a pretty big concern of mine especially moving Bolsinger to the starting rotation," Van Horn said of the early portion of the schedule. "I thought moving him out of there might hurt our bullpen a little bit but the guys that have taken his role like Geoffrey Davenport and Jeremy Heatley have done a very good job and then the closer role with DJ Baxendale, he has done a super job so far.

"I think the guys that have been through this league know these games mean a lot more than the first 15 games. There were some things in those first 15 games we needed to work and we've learned a lot about our team."

All three games will be televised by Cox Sports Television.

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