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Baseball's back 

Dave Van Horn was authoring the reclamation story of an era throughout the first half of the 2017 baseball season. LSU rudely rejected an initial manuscript over the weekend, but let's not let one painful weekend blemish what's happened so far for the Diamond Hogs.

After the Tigers stormed back from an 8-1 deficit Saturday night to send a record crowd home surly and stinging from a 10-8 loss, they ended up claiming the rubber match of the three-game set at Baum Stadium on Sunday against a listless Razorback offense. The weekend began promisingly when Blaine Knight fired six shutout innings in a 9-3 win Friday, and Trevor Stephan was nearly as good for the Saturday tilt, but the bullpen — that damning weakness that had only shown minor fissures rather than outright cracks — fell apart late.

Arkansas still finished up the series in a dead heat atop the SEC West with fellow surprise Auburn, at 8-4 in league play, and that 25-8 overall mark is merely one win behind last year's output at season's end. Van Horn's 2016 team will forever rate as a weird aberration in the coach's distinguished tenure: Despite some returning experience in the infield and on the mound, injuries and sporadic offensive production doomed the squad. Those Hogs sat at a still-respectable 26-17 mark with three league series left to play, but they got swept in all of them to finish 26-29, and a rather hideous 7-23 in SEC games. LSU had a memorable rally spurred by a possum on the loose during that fated campaign, and that devious rodent was likely smiling Saturday as Hog reliever Cannon Chadwick lost all semblance of command in the ninth inning and Jax Biggers fired a game-ending throw to first well beyond the target and into the dugout to put the Tigers in front.

Van Horn's teams had — again, excepting last spring's collapse — trended toward resilient. After all, they have reached four College World Series in his 15 years at the helm, and the last three of those (2009, 2012, 2015) went that far despite not winning the division title. Consistency, short of dominance, has been the hallmark of his tenure: The Hogs have never won 20 conference games in a season, and yet until last season, they had also never had any issues blowing past the 30-win mark and into the NCAA Tournament.

This squad looks more the part of an Omaha-bound bunch, what with a muscled lineup featuring far and away the most overall power in the league (45 team home runs leading the pack by a healthy margin) but still showing enough discipline and small-ball ability to not look like one of those mid-2000s groups that former hitting coach Todd Butler guided to unprecedented power and strikeout marks. There's balance in the lineup, with no sure outs in the bunch, and the bench has some pop, too.

In the field, Biggers' gaffe on Saturday notwithstanding, this is one of the finest fielding squads around, not just regionally but on a national scale. As has become typical, they're anchored up the middle with Biggers and veteran Carson Shaddy seeming very comfortable with his transition to second base. Most impressively, though, the outfielders have agility and instincts, and they can run down balls in Baum's wide alleys with relative ease. Grant Koch and veteran Alex Gosser are a productive offensive catching tandem, but they handle the staff beautifully, too.

And about that staff: Knight (5-1) and Stephan (4-2) are a dynamic and overpowering 1-2 punch at the top of the order, but at that point things get decidedly weaker, and that's where this team may find its postseason fate hinged. Josh Alberius hasn't been bad, but as a third starter he's not pitching deep into games, and former starter Dominic Taccolini is far too erratic to reclaim the spot.

That's where Jake Reindl comes in, and why the Sunday loss to LSU may have been of great benefit down the line. With Alberius knocked out early, Reindl came on and was nothing short of brilliant. And after 10 relief appearances, where he's posted a 22-4 strikeout-walk ratio and surrendered only five earned runs in 21 2/3 innings, maybe he's the long-term answer on the Sabbath. He's got exceptional movement but he also harnesses it well, sacrificing speed for control, and he could easily be the long-term solution if he builds off that momentum.

The Hogs have numerous challenges ahead on the schedule, so solidifying that third starter post, and figuring out where the bullpen's magic can source from, is critical for Van Horn and new pitching coach Wes Johnson.

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Speaking of Dave Van Horn, Arkansas Razorbacks Baseball

  • Bad year a blip

    May 19, 2016
    Dave Van Horn's performance as Arkansas's baseball coach is beyond reproach. The program was respectable, if flatlining a bit, under longtime head coach Norm DeBriyn. /more/
  • Don't despair about baseball

    April 21, 2016
    Arkansas's baseball freefall is not something atypical for a Dave Van Horn team. Being 21-15, 4-11 at the midway point of the conference season would seem so distressing, if you bought into the belief that records mattered all that much. /more/
  • Two and done

    June 18, 2015
    In retrospect, I probably should've eased off those comparisons between 2015 and 2004 Arkansas baseball. /more/
  • Hogs CWS preview

    June 11, 2015
    When Arkansas gutted out a 3-2 win over Missouri State at Baum Stadium to cap off a sun-soaked, cuticle-clawing Super Regional best-of-three, it sent the Hogs to the College World Series for the fourth time under Dave Van Horn's watch. /more/
  • Baseball Hogs on a roll

    May 7, 2015
    We've noted a peculiar tendency for Dave Van Horn's Arkansas Razorback baseball squads to commonly defy expectations. You can see how this might be a wildly sliding scale, because when projections are modest the team almost always excels. In fatter years, those results trend leaner by the end. /more/
  • Diamond Hogs search for consistency

    March 28, 2013
    Baseball, for all its puffed-up charm as a piece of Americana, is really a pretty fiendish oddity. At the collegiate level, it's especially true. /more/
  • A beautiful day in Fayetteville

    February 21, 2013
    Some weekends, even in the oft-tortured Ozarks, the sun shines just right on the ballfields and the energy is just right in the arenas. /more/
  • The good, the bad and the ugly

    January 30, 2013
    A week's worth of fodder from Razorback Country is akin to a Leone spaghetti western. /more/
  • Odds and ends

    February 22, 2012
    There's been significant activity across the Razorback athletics the past few days, so we'll start with two sports that haven't been given "Pearls" treatment before ending on well-trod ground. /more/
  • More »

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