An initial glance would lead one to believe the two teams are heading in opposite directions. The Razorbacks have lost four of their last five conference games while the Rebels have won seven straight in league play and 10 straight overall.
But for Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn the last two weeks haven't been considered a slump, but instead part of a long season.
"We're disappointed we lost two series in a row but we don't feel like we're in a major slump, but feel like we got beat by a couple of pretty good teams that out-hit us or outplayed us that day," Van Horn said. "It's going to happen in a long schedule. Obviously we know we need to turn it around and win some games."
A losing streak toward the end of the season is nothing new for Arkansas, which dropped eight straight conference games last season before rebounding to make it to the College World Series.
The Razorbacks (35-10, 14-7) still have hopes of nabbing one of the eight national seeds in next month's NCAA Regionals. Arkansas can go a long way in making that happen over the final three weeks of the regular season with road dates at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, and a home series next week against SEC-leading South Carolina.
"You can look at it on the negative side as you've got all these great teams coming in; a first place team and then another first place team, and then go to Vandy who supposedly has two of the best college pitchers to finish the season. Or you can look at it as we get to play the team we're tied with and then the team we're two games behind. A lot of things can happen the next two weekends.
"We take it as a challenge that we get to play the two best teams in our league. What more could you ask for?"
Sunday Starter TBA
Van Horn said he will leave the Sunday pitcher undetermined heading into the weekend after saying earlier in the week freshman left-hander Randall Fant would likely get the start.
"We're going to leave all of our pitchers available for Friday and Saturday," Van Horn said. "I think the games are important enough that if you have the chance to win one you do what you've got to do on the mound, and figure out Sunday when you get to Sunday."
What happens in the first two games will go a long way toward figuring out who gets the Sunday start, Van Horn said, but early candidates are Fant, senior right-hander Mike Bolsinger and junior right-hander Brett Eibner, who was scratched from the weekend rotation after struggling to pitch and hit on the same day. Eibner leads the team with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs.
"There's always a possibility he could come out of the pen Sunday or even before that," Van Horn said. "If we haven't thrown him and things are going for us in the series there's always the possibility we could start him on Sunday."
Drew Smyly will get the Friday start and freshman right-hander DJ Baxendale will make his first road start on Saturday. Baxendale, formerly the team's closer, has earned no-decisions in two previous starts this season and has seven saves.
"You know what you're getting out of him every day and that's great effort," Van Horn said. "He's intense and into it and that's comforting from a coaching standpoint that he's focused. I thought he threw the ball well last weekend and he's competing hard. He's one of the few freshmen that came in as a freshman with a lot of confidence."
No More School!
Final exams for the spring semester wrapped up for players Thursday at the University of Arkansas. The team chartered a bus and left Fayetteville just after 10 a.m. for Mississippi.
"Usually the last couple of weeks of school you can tell there's a lot going on with them mentally," Van Horn said. "They're a little tired and don't bounce around as much. They're a little more quiet even on the practice field or in the dugout. There's just a lot going through their minds.
"After the finals are over it's a relief to them because that's one less things they have to worry about right now."
Early word out of Mississippi is tickets are nearly sold out for this weekend's match-up.
Oxford-University Stadium seats 10,323 fans after a series of renovations there the last five years. Van Horn said it's the toughest place his team plays in the SEC.
"It's tough because of the atmosphere and the fans, plus they're good," Van Horn said. "Those fans are pretty rowdy and get into it."
It will be a busy weekend on the Ole Miss campus as commencement ceremonies will be taking place Saturday.
If you can't get a ticket or a hotel room, don't panic. Friday and Saturday's games will be televised by ESPNU beginning at 7 p.m.
Shortstop Tim Carver is 100 percent with a hip injury, Van Horn said, which will allow one of the speediest Razorbacks to run the base pads more freely than last weekend against Auburn...Fellow shortstop Matt Reynolds will make the trip as he continues to have problems with a stress reaction in his shin. Reynolds started two games last week before the injury flared up again. He will be available to play in a pinch this weekend, Van Horn said...TJ Forrest is close to 100 percent with a shoulder injury that kept him from pitching against Auburn. A senior, Forrest leads all relievers in wins this season with six...Van Horn said Jarrod McKinney had a successful surgery on his torn ACL suffered in April. "The doctors said it couldn't have gone any better," Van Horn said. A sophomore, McKinney will need about six months recovery time with the injury.