Tuesday, May 26, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Late surge boosts Hogs to regional after poor start

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Once floundering at 11-12 overall and 1-5 in the SEC, the Arkansas Razorbacks’ midseason surge propelled them to a 14th consecutive NCAA Baseball regional, it was announced Monday.

Coach Dave Van Horn’s 20th-ranked Razorbacks, 35-22 overall and 17-12 in the SEC, are the second seed in the 4-team double elimination Stillwater, Okla. Regional beginning Friday at Oklahoma State’s Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.

Arkansas is matched at noon Friday against the third-seeded Summit League champion Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles, 41-14. The SEC Network will televise the game.

Friday night, host team and top-seed Oklahoma State, 37-18, completes the first round vs. the fourth-seeded Big East champion St. John’s Red Storm, 39-14.
Winner’s and loser’s bracket games are scheduled Saturday with a loser’s bracket final on Sunday afternoon and a championship game Sunday night and another one Monday if necessary.

The winner of the Stillwater Regional is bracketed the following weekend to play the winner of the Missouri State hosted Springfield Regional in a best 2 of 3 Super Regional. The winner of that advances to the Elite Eight, playing for the national championship at the College World Series in Omaha.

Iowa, Oregon and Canisius are the teams in Springfield with Missouri State, 45-10. Though nationally seeded, Missouri State can’t host a Super Regional because the Minor League Springfield Cardinals return home that weekend to Hammons Field, which they share with Missouri State.

So Arkansas likely would host the Super Regional at Baum Stadium if the Razorbacks can prevail at Stillwater.

“That’s nice,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said of possibly hosting the Super Regional. But the 13-year head coach also implied talking about that is putting the cart way before the horse.

“Believe me, we have a lot of work to do,” Van Horn said. “There are some really good teams in our Regional. It’s a great field. We need to get through Oral Roberts who has won a lot of ballgames. They have an older team.”

The Golden Eagles bat .321 as a team and are paced by two .343 hitters in Anthony Sequeria, 10 home runs and 54 RBI, and Mark Whatley, five home runs and 44 RBI.

ORU’s top starters are Xavier Altamirano, 8-2 with a 2.94 earned run average, and Guillermo Trujillo, 10-4, 4.03.

Arkansas will start junior right-hander Trey Killian, the Norfork native and Mountain Home High graduate, only 2-4 with a 4.72 but with a sensational start in last week’s SEC Tournament, holding Tennessee to one run for seven and two-thirds innings before Arkansas won 2-1 in the ninth for reliever Zach Jackson.

Van Horn hopes Killian can repeat his SEC Tournament performance and also hopes his No. 2 starter, freshman Keaton McKinney, 6-1, 3.14 ERA, heals from the ailing hip that removed him in the second inning of an ineffective start against Florida, though Arkansas eventually prevailed, 7-6.

“Trey is our oldest pitcher and most experienced pitcher and pitched really well last week,” Van Horn said. “As far as McKinney, I’m not sure where he’s at yet. I’ll talk to him here in just a little bit and see how he’s feeling. But that would probably be the order if everybody’s healthy. We’ll try to determine that definitely by tomorrow.”

What is specifically wrong with McKinney’s hip?

“I don’t really know,” Van Horn said. “There’s some soreness and inflammation in there, some pain. I just know it’s been bothering him off and on for a while and it really hadn’t come about in a game until the other day. And you could tell it really affected his command, because he throws strikes, and he threw seven out of eight pitches for a ball, and that’s unusual.”

Dominic Taccolini, whom Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn would prefer bringing out of the bullpen if needed the first two games or saved for a third game start, likely would start Friday if McKinney still ails.

James Teague struggled in his SEC Tournament start, losing 10-5 to LSU. He also likely would have to pitch earlier in the tournament than Van Horn prefers if McKinney can’t go.

“It’s real concerning,” Van Horn said of McKinney’s availability. “He’s one reason we’re going to be in a regional, because he pitched so well down the stretch. We definitely need him to be able to go. If not, we’re going to have to have somebody step it up.”