Van Horn: Hogs, Gamecocks similar

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn sees two "very similar" teams with South Carolina coming to town for a battle of SEC baseball leaders.

Dave Van Horn knows the task ahead. Starting on Friday when South Carolina visits Baum Stadium, the Hogs are going to play seven games in nine days. There are three with Carolina, a Tuesday trip to Oklahoma and then it's on to Nashville where the Hogs see Vanderbilt for games Thursday through Saturday.

The Arkansas baseball coach didn't say it, but you got the idea from listening to him talk at his Thursday afternoon media briefing that the Hogs would take it one game at a time.

"We've just had a good week, winning three of four," Van Horn said. "But realistically, it all starts over tomorrow. It's a big week."

It's so much day to day that Van Horn didn't want to commit to a Sunday starter for the South Carolina series. He would say that Drew Smyly draws the nod for Friday night opposite South Carolina ace Blake Cooper. Mike Bolsinger will be the Saturday pitcher for the Hogs. After that, it's TBA (to be announced).

"I see where South Carolina is going to be the same way for Sunday, TBA," Van Horn said.

That shouldn't surprise. Van Horn said the Gamecocks are "very similar" to the Hogs in many respects. Both teams enter at 38-11 overall. Carolina is tied with Florida in the SEC East at 17-7. The Hogs lead the East at 16-8.

"The main difference might be that we run a little more than they do and they play defense a little better than us," he said. "The numbers as far as ERA and other areas are very similar. We mirror each other as a team."

Van Horn said Brett Eibner is a possibility as a starter on Sunday. He mentioned T. J. Forrest and DJ Baxendale as other options. He said he's probably ruled out Randall Fant.

"I don't think so on Fant," he said. "He's been too careless with the baseball. He needs to have better command and be more consistent. He'll throw a good inning, then he loses focus and gives up a big inning."

As far as Sunday, Van Horn said, "Lets get through Friday and Saturday and things will work itself out. They usually do. South Carolina is doing it the same way."

Van Horn said this is a balanced South Carolina team under veteran coach Ray Tanner.

"This team of his is a little more solid in some ways," Van Horn said. "They are always had a team that would hit with power, but this year they may not have the guy who has hit 15, 16 or 17 home runs. They've got guys up and down the order who have 7, 8, 9. They've always had power and good defense, but this is a more well-rounded team. They've got more pitching."

The matchup on Friday night could feature two of the top candidates for SEC pitcher of the year. Smyly, the Hogs' ace, is 8-0. Cooper is 9-0. Smyly outdueled Ole Miss ace Drew Pomeranz last Friday.

"Smyly has thrown a lot of strikes for us," Van Horn said. "He's done very well. Cooper is an outstanding pitcher. He's probably 21, 22. He's a veteran. He's got four pitches and he throws them all for strikes. He can mix it up. He has a curve, slider, a split finger pitch that's his change and he can run it up there 91, 92. He'll make you chase, change speeds. He's very tough. It's hard to center up the bat on him. He keeps you guessing."

Van Horn said catcher James McCann seems to be getting healthy after getting hit on his left arm by a pitch on Tuesday night.

"It was swollen and sore," Van Horn said. "It might have gotten a nerve. He was nauseated, but he was better yesterday."

The Hogs are leading the SEC West, one game behind Florida and South Carolina in the overall race. Does that complicate things to have two different sets of standings?

"I guess it could," Van Horn said. "I think what our guys want to do is just win this series. I guess you could do that and another team could sweep and you'd lose a game, but I think we should just take the same approach we've had all year and that's win the series."

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