Energy Returns for Hogs

Zack Cox and Brett Eibner bring some power to the Arkansas lineup. They also bring back some energy from their teammates.

The energy is back for the Arkansas baseball team. A late-season swoon that was partly tough competition and partly some injuries to the big bats should be a thing of the past when the Hogs host the NCAA Fayetteville Regional beginning Friday.

Top-seeded Arkansas plays No. 4 seed Grambling at 2:05 p.m. Friday at Baum Stadium. Washington State and Kansas State square off in the 7:05 p.m. nightcap. The losers play at 2:05 p.m. Saturday. The winner's bracket final is set for 7:05 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are still available.

Zack Cox and Brett Eibner, the Hogs' top two hitters, both will be in the starting lineup, head coach Dave Van Horn said after the Hogs wrapped up their final practice of the week on Thursday morning. Both Cox and Eibner have been nursing injuries, but they were impressive in all aspects of practice this week. Both hit some bombs in batting practive Thursday.

"They'll be in the lineup," Van Horn said Thursday. "That makes everyone feel better. This time of year, you want all your guys to be there. How they will be able to play, only time will tell. But it's nice to know they are back.

"We've had a good week of practice. It's been hot and that's helped, too. It's been hot and we've relaxed and got back to basics. The only thing we didn't do was scrimmage. We just worked on little things and hit. Some of the guys who were struggling don't seem to be having the same problems now. They have some energy back."

Catcher James McCann, sophomore team captain, said there is emotion and energy throughout the squad after seeing Cox and Eibner hit this week. They've been sitting out of all practices the last two weeks. Cox has a pulled muscle in his back. Eibner has a hairline fracture in his right hand that has led to tendinitis.

"We've been waiting to see them do this and now after watching them hit, we've got some energy in the squad," McCann said. "You saw us. You heard us. That was real. The guys were hollering in the outfield when they started popping them out of here.

"You saw the first day Zack came back and it was sort of robotic, just taking it careful. But the last two days, you can see him rip the ball. He's fine. He's going to play. We know that now. Eibner, too. He's fine. He hit a couple a long way today.

"We struggled late in the year without them. We needed some energy back and they brought it to us. You know those two are integral parts of this team. They are two of the best bats around. They've been banged up, but they look pretty good right now.

"I think the rest did them good in a lot of ways. They got healed up and they are excited and ready to play. It's been tough on them and they got let loose this week."

Van Horn thought Cox was swinging it as well as he's seen this season the last two days of batting practice. On Thursday, after Cox took his initial round in the cage, hitting coach Todd Butler, standing at third base, said, "Zack, that's enough. I've seen enough. You can stop anytime you want."

Butler moved over to a spot near Van Horn when Cox took his next round of what is usually four turns in the cage. After that, Van Horn came in and told Cox to stop.

"We were going to have three more pull rounds and I didn't see any need for Zack to take any more swings," Van Horn said. "Eibner hasn't hit as much this week and we were fine with him going another round or two. But Zack really looked good and was aggressive.

"I thought Brett was pretty good in the oppo (opposite field) rounds, but he needed another round or two in the pull rounds. I thought they both had real good days."

Andy Wilkins said he's feeling strong now, too.

"I really have struggled with the hamstring at times, but it's 100 percent now," he said. "You wanted to do well at the SEC tournament and hang around until the end, but when you step back and see what we've done this week after some rest, it probably worked out the right way.

"I feel better. I feel stronger in my legs. I'm swinging it better this week. I think we all are feeling better. You see Cox and Eibner swing it and it gives us all some confidence."

What do the Hogs expect from Grambling?

"We have seen the one tape of them in the finals of their conference tournament against Alcorn," McCann said. "You can see they are a decent team.

"They can hit and run. They are athletic. We know to be ready for them to run. We'll have to be ready for that part of their game.

"Everyone is that gets this far can play. So we know they are going to be decent, but they won't have pitching like we've seen in the SEC. They won't have a string of guys that throw 92 to 94. It's not going to be like that."

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