Arkansas is sitting in the driver’s seat of their bracket in the College World Series after beating Texas and Texas Tech in their first two games. They now await the winner between Florida and Texas Tech who will have to beat Arkansas twice to punch them out of the tournament. One win for Arkansas would put them in the best of three final series with either Oregon State or Mississippi State.
Arkansas should look no farther back than 2012 to know they cannot take this situation for granted. That season the Hogs beat Kent State and South Carolina before the Gamecocks beat them twice and sent them on their way home. However, the makeup of the 2012 and 2018 teams are not exactly the same.
The 2012 team was known much more for their pitching than their hitting. The NCAA had just made changes to the rules regarding bats that made them a lot less powerful and coaches like Dave Van Horn were recruiting pitching a lot harder than hitting.
Veteran Razorback baseball fans reminisce about names like Baxendale, Stanek, Astin, Suggs, Moore, Sanburn, Fant, and Lynch. It is still unbelievable to think all of these arms, along with a young Michael Gunn and Chris Oliver, were on the same staff. That season the team finished with an ERA of 2.83 and an opponent batting average of .228.
Fast forward six years and, though the staff as a whole is nowhere near 2012, they are deep enough to run three solid starters and three dominant relievers out there, which is more than enough to navigate through the post season. And thus lies the difference maker for this team that 2012 was missing: a .303 batting average and school record 97 home runs.
The lineup that Van Horn is able to now write with his eyes closed are the best one through nine hitters he has had since coming to Arkansas. Not only so, but a struggling Dominic Fletcher is heating up at the right time and Jared Gates has been on a tear over the last month to make them even scarier to opposing pitchers.
Arkansas and South Carolina essentially played a three game series after the first game of the tournament in 2012. Arkansas won the first one 2-1 and then lost 2-0 and 3-2. It seemed like the story of that season and especially the post season that Arkansas, if they were going to win, was going to have to hold on by a narrow margin and that required the pitching to compete at a high level without much run support.
This year there is a completely different feel. Arkansas still has a lot of work to do and it will not be easy by any means. However, they can count on their hitting much more than in the past and their pitching is also set up well to keep whoever they play at bay.
So should we sit back and relax as fans and expect to win one of the next two games to get in the finals? As someone who was there in Omaha to see the collapse of 2012, I know better than to expect a victory, especially against talented teams like Florida and Texas Tech.
But as I was listening to the great voice of Chuck Barrett during the weather delay call the 2012 World Series game that Arkansas won 2-1, I went back to a time when I was frustrated knowing that with just a little more offensive support that they could have been national champions. This time around I look forward to the next game with confidence, knowing that whoever Arkansas faces will get one of the most well rounded teams left playing.