CWS: Arkansas Preview

At the post-game press conference following the Horns' Super Regional-clinching 10-2 win over Vanderbilt Saturday, <B>Augie Garrido</B> sported an orange cap with "Life is good" splashed across the front. For Texas under Garrido, that phrase certainly applies.

UT will make its third straight Rosenblatt appearance and fourth in five years when Texas (55-13) takes on Arkansas (45-22) in each team's College World Series opener on Friday at 6 p.m. (ESPN2 telecast). The June trip to Omaha is the Longhorn program's 31st in school history, an NCAA record.

The same phrase that adorned Garrido's lid also applies to the Razorbacks, who experienced a quicker than expected resurrection under second-year head coach Dave Van Horn. The Hogs, who visited Austin in June of '03 as a Regional qualifier but were eliminated without playing Texas, were picked to finish 11th in the 12-team SEC in '04 but placed first in the league's Western Division and tied Eastern Division champ Georgia, also a CWS qualifier, for the best conference record overall at 19-11. Of 45 total wins, 14 came away from Baum Stadium as Arkansas finished 10-11 on the road and 4-3 at neutral sites.

In the post-season, the Razorbacks have lived on a razor's edge. Over their last 11 games starting with an 8-6 loss to Tennessee in their SEC Tournament opener, the Hogs own eight wins and three losses (Texas is 7-2 in the post-season) with all of the games decided by three runs or less. The average score: 5-4 Arkansas. The Pigs came out of the loser's bracket to take the Fayetteville Regional title, advancing to the Supers by winning three straight elimination games (two on Sunday vs. Wichita State, including an 11-9 affair where Arkansas was down to its final strike). The Hogs hosted Florida State last weekend and won in two straight, 7-5 and 4-2. With the trip to Rosenblatt, Van Horn becomes one of four coaches to skipper two different schools in Omaha (Garrido, of course, being another of the four). In Van Horns' two trips as head coach at Nebraska, the Huskers went two-and-barbecue in both attempts, leaving the current Arkansas head man with a 0-4 record in the College World Series.

Although lefty Clint Brannon is the Razorbacks' typical series opening starter, Van Horn may try to break into the CWS win column with right-hander Charley Boyce after Texas smoked Vandy lefty starters Jeremy Sowers and Ryan Mullins for 11 runs on 16 hits in 8-1/3 innings. In 21 appearances on the season, Boyce is 10-2 with a 3.10 ERA. The 6-0, 201-pound sophomore struck out 79 and gave up just over a hit an inning (112 in 110-1/3 innings) for an opponent's batting average of .262, but he doesn't issue many free passes (20 walks and 17 HBPs). Brannon had just seven decisions in his 18 starts, compiling a 4-3 mark and a 3.53 ERA. The 5-11, 205-pound junior's other numbers are very similar to those of Boyce: 107 hits in 102 innings pitched, 71 Ks, 30 walks and a .263 opponent's batting average. Senior Boyd Goodner is the No. 1 name to look for out of the 'pen in middle relief. His coach calls the 6-0, 190-pound rightie a "one-pitch" guy -- a fastball, which is the staple of the aggressive Arkansas staff -- but he used it well enough to earn the team's lowest ERA among regulars (1.38) and a 3-3 mark overall. Recent eighth round draft pick Jay Sawatski (10-3, 3.32 ERA), a 6-2, 195-pound senior lefty, leads the team in saves with seven, including in each of last weekend's wins over FSU, while 6-0, 185-pound senior rightie Caton Hall (5-2, 3.97 ERA) often worked as a set-up man but picked up four saves over the course of the season.

Offensively, the Horns and Hogs have very similar overall numbers. Texas bats .288 as a team, Arkansas .294. The Horns have hit 50 homers, the Hogs 52. UT leads in steals, but just barely, 112 to 109 (in one extra game). Etc. The Pigs, though, have a bit more balance -- statistically speaking -- up and down the line-up than do the Horns. Junior 3B Clay Goodwin paces the Arkansas regulars (50 or more starts) in hitting with a .338 average. The lowest average among the typical everyday players is junior C Brady Toops' .287. UT's spread goes from Curtis Thigpen (.359) and Carson Kainer (.351) down to 3B/DB J.D. Reininger (.269), although recent regulars SS Michael Hollimon (.226) and 3B David Maroul (.224) are even closer to the Mendoza line. The Pigs have pop throughout the line-up: senior 1B Haas Pratt (.317), freshman DH Danny Hamblin (.309) from Rowlett and freshman leadoff man LF Jake Dugger (.299) all have eight homers on the season, while junior cleanup hitter SS Scott Hode (.293) knocked out seven and Toops totaled five. Junior CF Casey Rowlett (22-27) and junior RF Scott Bridges (24-25) are the team's biggest threats to steal, although Hamblin, Dugger and junior 2B Devin Day also reached double figures in Van Horn's aggressive base-running system. Senior Brett Hagedorn is one to watch coming off the bench. He leads the team in batting at .338 in 39 games (15 starts). Day, Hagedorn, Hamblin, Hode, Pratt and Rowlett are righties, Bridges, Dugger and Toops are lefties and Goodwin is a switch hitter.

Arkansas is not a great defensive team, particularly on the left side of the infield. Goodwin at third fields just .919 on the season with his 13 errors, but that's several less than Hode at short, who has 19 and a .913 average. (From a Texas perspective, that's the equivalent of having a Reininger-like fielder at both short and third.) Up the middle, Day has 14 errors and a .948 percentage. As a team, the Hogs field .960 compared to the Horns' .975.

Texas and Arkansas played five common opponents, with the Horns finishing 11-5 vs. UT-Pan Am (1-0), Oklahoma State (2-2), Missouri (1-2), Texas A&M (3-1) Oral Roberts (2-0, Regional) and Vanderbilt (2-0, Super Regional) while the Hogs earned a 7-5 overall mark vs. the Broncs (1-2), the Cowboys (1-0), the Tigers (1-0, Regional), the Ags (1-2), the Golden Eagles (1-0) and the Commodores (2-1).


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