Five Reasons Arkansas Will Win the College World Series
I know this headline alone made some of you cringe. Some maybe wouldn’t even read the column. I recall when I wrote a column predicting an Arkansas rout in the Liberty Bowl against K-State that comments ranged from me giving the Wildcats bulletin board material, to me jinxing the Hogs to making the Arkansas players over-confident reading it. No, I am not making this up.
So, I write this knowing the paranoid portion of the fan base, which is more of you than you want to admit, will freak out in one way or another. I don’t really care. I’m not sure how you can watch this team and not expect a deep CWS run. The expectations have been high all season and have now hit a crescendo with a dominant regular season.
Below are five reasons the Hogs will win the CWS title.
- Home Field Advantage: Before a team wins in Omaha, they have to get there. Arkansas has only lost four times at Baum Stadium. Securing the No. 5 National Seed guarantees the Hogs will play at home for the first two weekends of postseason play. Baum has been ranked as the No. 1 college baseball venue. Fans will wait hours to get in and will pack every square inch of the place. For those that have seen a regional or Super Regional there, know the atmosphere is electric and imposing.
This regional field is a good one, and some pundits look to Dallas Baptist as a dark horse, but this is what the Razorbacks have played for all season to earn this right. I’d be very surprised if they don’t cruise right through both weekends with a capacity crowd fueling it.
- Pitching: I don’t care that junior Blaine Knight (2.78 ERA) was second team All-SEC, there isn’t any other pitcher in the country that is as clutch as Knight. He’s 10-0 and has beaten No. 1 National Seed Florida twice. Having Knight in the rotation, especially if the Hogs get to the Super Regionals, is big because he is as close to automatic as any hurler in Hogs history with his unblemished record.
Kacey Murphy (7-4, 3.15 ERA) has developed into a reliable No. 2 starter and Isiah Campbell (4-6, 4.01 ERA) has pitched well late in the season in a starting role. The bullpen is always important in the postseason, and the Hogs have a reliable one. Barrett Lohske has a 3.31 ERA in 22 relief appearances this season. Jake Reindl boats a 2.97 ERA in 21 appearances with five saves. Closer Matt Cronin slams the door shut with a nasty fastball and 11 saves.
In a series, Knight and Murphy are capable enough to pitch in later innings to ensure the bullpen is fresh in case Campbell needs help. That’s a great luxury for Coach Dave Van Horn.
- Battle Tested: The Hogs played seven ranked teams this season, including six on the road. Critics pointed to the Hogs’ sub-.500 road record, but a majority of the losses came against ranked SEC teams. The SEC is brutal, and all of the teams that qualified for the tournament are better for it. The regular-season schedule will help all compete well against teams from lesser conferences, and it seems very likely that at least four SEC teams will make the CWS.
- A Potent Lineup: Arkansas has hitters 1 through 9. The team hits .299 and has belted 84 home runs. Four Hogs have hit more than 10 or more homers and four are hitting .325 or better. This lineup went from good to great with the emergence of freshmen Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin.
The top of the order is especially dangerous, but pitchers can’t really relax throughout the order. Arkansas is a threat to score runs in a hurry, and many times this year has given their stellar pitching staff early leads to help bolster confidence.
- Dave Van Horn: He’s the best coach of any sport on the Arkansas campus when you figure recruiting, winning big games and postseason appearances. He is also among the top college baseball skippers in the country. When it comes to big-game decisions and strategy fans can be confident Van Horn will push the right buttons. A CWS title would only cement his status as a legend at Arkansas and college baseball.