The Razorbacks' head coach said great seasons are reserved for championships, for which Arkansas came up empty-handed in 2010. The Hogs started off great with a 33-6 record at one point, but for the second straight year struggled down the stretch in the regular season, losing seven of nine heading into NCAA Regional play.
"It was almost kind of like a few different seasons for us," Van Horn said Thursday. "The beginning was good, the middle was great, the third part was filled with injuries and really the final part of the season was a team that just battled and wasn't 100 percent at all positions. We still were real close."
"Arizona State is probably one of the best teams in the country and a tough place to play," Van Horn said. "I thought we handled it pretty well but were probably a pitch short and a couple of hits short, otherwise we'd be in Omaha. You look at Omaha the last two years there have been 15 different teams there out of 16 - Arizona State is the only repeat team. I've said it for a long that there is a lot of parity in college baseball right now and a lot of great coaches and programs, and a lot of money is being invested in facilities that's keeping kids in those areas and going to the local school."
Injuries played a key role late in the year. Every day starters like Zack Cox and Brett Eibner battled injuries from early May-on.
"I thought the players did a great job of hanging in there and battling and they almost pulled it off," Van Horn said. "I would have loved to be able to see this team really healthy and confident rolling into the regionals. I think we were fairly confident but it's tough being 100 percent confident when you know some of your better players are injured and things aren't up to what they could have been. I think we represented the University of Arkansas pretty well, and the SEC, with our play in the regional and with our play at the super regional. I've gotten many compliments and e-mails - even some from some Arizona State fans asking us to join the Pac-10. They said we'd class up their league and I appreciate that a lot."
This season signified the end of an era, not only in Arkansas' program but in college baseball as a whole. Though the Razorbacks lose big hitters like Cox, Eibner and Andy Wilkins, it might not hurt as much with the NCAA modifying aluminum bats with more weight to swing more like wood bats. Van Horn said his team will play more small ball in 2011.
"I think it's going to be a lot more pitching and defense and you're not going to see as many home runs in the future - it may be cut in half," Van Horn said. "We've tried to go out and recruit that way the last couple of years and get some guys that could really field and run a little bit better, and hopefully hit more line drives. I think you're going to see more bunting and hitting and running, more 1985 baseball back in the future.
"It'll be a really interesting fall for us. We'll have to do a lot of teaching, a lot of coaching with all these new guys coming in. This last year we pretty much knew who was going to play so we practiced and just tried to get better. This year we'll have to do a lot of teaching and get some guys ready to play. I'm excited about it. Sometimes change is good."
A high-profile recruiting class should help ease the sting of losing at least six and up to eight players to pro baseball, granted the majority of the signees don't sign their own pro contracts. Van Horn said Monk Kreder and Travis Sample won't return either.
Justin O'Conner, the face of the class, won't make it to school after signing a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, who took him in the first round of the draft. But Van Horn believes other highly-drafted players like pitchers Ryne Stanek (3rd round), Ben Wells (7th round) and Robbie Ray (12th round), and infielders Jared Lakind (23rd round) and Dominic Ficociello (23rd round) have good chances of making it to school.
"We've got to keep the kids that we have signed because that's a talented group out of high school," Van Horn said. "If we can keep that group together for the most part I think we'll have a top five recruiting class, which will be good. I think you can see Florida has had top one or two classes the last couple of years and there they are in Omaha with a fairly young team."
Keeping Collin Kuhn would also big a plus. Kuhn was selected in the 15th round by the Detroit Tigers. But the redshirt sophomore has another year of bargaining power if the money isn't to his liking.
"We're honest with them and give them our advice when they ask," Van Horn said. "They might ask what's fair money and I'll say, 'I don't know. What's life-changing money to you?' It's kind of their thing but we'll give them advice."
Van Horn said he was disappointed in the play of his freshman class this year and they will have to step up next season to keep from being passed by the talented group coming in. That group includes redshirt freshman Jacob Morris, an outfielder that transferred to Arkansas from Arizona State at the midterm just before the baseball season began.
Morris was ranked as one of the top outfield prospects out of Coppell High School in Texas in 2009. After committing to Arizona State and enrolling for the fall semester there he decided it was the wrong choice.
Van Horn said he was happy with Morris' progression throughout his redshirt season at Arkansas, which was mandatory because of NCAA transfer rules. Morris might be the fastest on a team that will include other speedsters like Bo Bigham, Tim Carver, Matt Vinson and Kyle Atkins, among others.
"He's a great athlete," Van Horn said. "You'll see next year that's as fast as anybody on our team. He can really throw and is a switch-hitter. He showed that he has a chance to play for us next year. He's a pro prospect guy that hasn't done anything yet. He's got to show up in games."
Van Horn said he was encouraged by DJ Baxendale's performance out of the bullpen in the second game against Arizona State in the super regional. The freshman right-hander went 6 1/3 innings without giving up an earned run, likely cementing his role as the No. 1 starter heading into the off-season.
"He's a guy that when you look at it he's really hungry and very dedicated," Van Horn said. "He didn't get a win his freshman year; he got a few saves but didn't get a win. It wouldn't surprise me next year if he got 10-plus wins. I like him and I like his make-up. We have some good young arms coming in next year so we need him to lead a little bit there."