Disclaimer: I'll admit that I'm really phoning in this week's edition of Diamond Hog Update. I'm the farthest thing from a "fairweather fan", but I find it extremely difficult to make myself write about the Hogs when they're not doing well. At the very least, that gives me a new respect for John, Stephen, and anyone else who had to write about last year's basketball season. After getting swept by South Carolina at home last week, one might imagine that the Hogs themselves would phone in this week's performance, just to get the season over. And, for a while, that looked to be the case. After dropping a mid-week game against OU in Norman and blowing the first game against Vandy, the Hogs looked primed to go out with a whimper. Instead, they dug deep to take the next two games against the Commodores and pick up a solid SEC road victory.
The Razorbacks got off to a bad start in the Oklahoma Game, as the Sooners plate a run in each of the first 3 innings to take a 3-0 lead. Andy Wilkins uses an RBI double in the 4th to get the Hogs on board, but OU adds 2 more runs in the 5th to take a commanding 5-1 lead. The Hogs attempted a comeback in the 9th, as Collin Kuhn hit a 2-out RBI single, but Matt Reynolds would strike out to seal the 5-2 Sooner victory.
Because classes are over for all SEC schools, and because the SEC tournament starts Wednesday, Game 1 of the Vanderbilt series began on Thursday instead of the usual Friday. The Commodores started the game off big, hitting a 2-out 2-run homer off Arkansas ace Drew Smyly in the bottom of the 1st. The Diamond Hogs take an opposite approach in the 2nd, as they score 3 runs off Monk Kreder's 2-RBI single and Collin Kuhn's RBI single to take the lead. Unfortunately, that's all the offense the Razorbacks could muster. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt added RBIs in the 4th and 7th innings to take a 4-3 lead. The Hogs put themselves in good scoring position in the 9th, but hit into a DP to end the game.
Tired of seemingly always playing catchup, the Hogs score very early in Game 2, as Collin Kuhn puts the 3rd pitch of the ballgame over the wall. Andy Wilkins adds an RBI double in the 4th, and Monk Kreder follows that up with a 2-run homer to put the Hogs up 4-0. Vanderbilt strikes back with a run off a fielding error in the bottom of the inning, but the Hogs get out of the jam with limited damage. Brett Eibner comes in to close in the 9th inning, and he makes things interesting, as he allows 2 solo homers in the inning before finally retiring the side. Despite the scare, the Diamond Hogs take a 4-3 victory, as Mike Bolsinger takes the win and Eibner gets the save.
And, as of Game 3 - The Twenty-Second of May, Two Thousand Ten, The Year of Our Lord - the Diamond Hog offensive slump appears to be over. Four consecutive singles by Andy Wilkins, Travis Sample, Tom Hauskey, and Monk Kreder put 2 runs on the board in the 2nd. Bo Bigham follows that up with a lead-off solo home run in the 3rd, and Kreder continues the scoring with a 2-RBI single in the same inning to give the Hogs a 5-0 lead. In the 5th, Brett Eibner scores off a throwing error, and Kreder comes through again with a sac fly to score Wilkins. Of course, it wouldn't be a Razorback game without some pitching scares. Starting pitcher TJ Forrest is dealing through 6 innings, but gets pulled on a pitch count for Geoffrey Davenport for the 7th. Davenport responds by giving up a solo home run with his 2nd pitch of the game, and then loads the bases before being pulled for Jordan Pratt. Pratt walks the first 2 batters he faces, and it's suddenly 7-3. The Commodores add an RBI in the 8th and solo homer in the 9th to make it 7-5, but that's as far as they'd get, as TJ Forrest takes the much-deserved win.
Despite going 2-2, this week can be considered nothing short of positive. Not only were the Hogs able to pull off an elusive SEC road win, they did it without their best player. Lost in all this is the fact that 3B Zack Cox was injured last Sunday and only saw limited action as a DH during Friday's game. He likely won't be seen during the SEC tournament, either, as Coach Van Horn wants to make sure he's healthy for regionals. Moreover, it's encouraging to see that it is, in fact, possible to win an SEC series without absolutely having to win whatever game Drew Smyly pitches in. That, plus breaking out of the team-wide offensive slump, should breed some major confidence for the post season.
At the conclusion of the regular season, the Hogs sit at an impressive 40-16 (18-12). For comparison's sake, last season's CWS team won 42 games total, including the post-season, and at this point last season, the Hogs were 32-20 (14-15). The Hogs still hold top-10 spots in both the RPI and SoS, but currently find themselves on the outside looking in for a national seed berth, mostly due to the sweep at the hands of SC. A strong showing the SEC tournament can fix that, though. And, since the sweep by SC also knocked the Hogs out of 1st place in the SEC West (and the accompanying #2 seed in the tourney), the Hogs face a tougher road to the SEC championship. The SEC tournament begins Wednesday, and incidentally, the Hogs' first opponent will be Vanderbilt. It's been a bumpy few weeks, but it appears the Hogs are regaining their swagger at just the right time. Woo Pig Sooie!