Arkansas opens SEC Tournament Thursday against 10th-seeded South Carolina

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2024-05-21 22:45 PM


No. 5 Arkansas begins a postseason quest Wednesday afternoon in Hoover that it hopes will end in late June in Omaha.

The SEC Western Division champion and second-seeded Razorbacks (43-12, 20-10) will face South Carolina (34-21, 13-17) in a SEC Tournament game at 1 p.m. at the Hoover Met in Alabama.

South Carolina ended a six-game losing streak Tuesday by raylling from a 3-0 deficit to oust Alabama 10-5 in an opening-round elimination game.

Arkansas took two of three games at South Carolina on April 19-20 with the Razorbacks winning Friday night and the teams splitting a Saturday doubleheader.

“Yeah, we won a couple of games there,” Van Horn said. “Some tight games. We only know what we know. I guess they’re solid you know. They’ve maybe struggled a little bit the last couple of weeks. But they’re very talented. They have some really good arms. But you know it’s hard to say who they would throw against us. At this time of year you just kind of play and go from there.”

Van Horn challenged his squad during a Monday practice after busing to Hoover from College Station, Texas, on Saturday night and having an off day on Sunday.

“Yesterday’s workout was really good,” Van Horn said. “I think the position players probably didn’t know what we were going to do. Just go out there and take a few ground balls and hit? No, we had a little uptick practice and it lasted a little longer than they probably thought.

“I thought they responded real well. We put a little pressure on them offensively and on the defensive end, they were working some live, off the bat. I thought it went real well.”

Van Horn said Tuesday that pitcher Ben Bybee (2-1, 6.00 ERA) will open on the mound for his team although he did consider Brady Tygart (4-3, 3.86), a normal weekend starter that was off last week for rest.

“(Arkansas pitching) Coach (Matt) Hobbs and I just decided to start him,” Van Horn said. “I think that Brady hasn’t thrown for a while. Ben threw the other day and threw the ball over the plate, threw pretty well.”

SEC Pitcher of the Year and Golden Spikes semifinalist Hagen Smith (9-0, 1.52), Tygart, Gage Wood (3-1, 3.12) and Mason Molina (4-2, 4.19) are all pitchers that could start or pitch in relief for the Razorbacks in Hoover.

“You’ll probably see Brady this week,” Van Horn said. “Hopefully we win some games and get into it a little bit and get to use them all.”

A Wednesday win would push Arkansas into a Thursday 4:30 p.m. against the winner of Wednesday’s game between third-seeded Kentucky and 11th-seeded LSU winner.

A loss would have the Razorbacks up early Thursday and playing at 9:30 elimination game against the Kentucky-LSU loser.

Van Horn said Smith would likely pitch in the tournament.

“Yeah, he should pitch in this, in the next couple of days,” Van Horn said. “We’re not sure yet on how we’re going to use him but he’ll get out there.”
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Dalton Reeves’ grand slam was one four homers for the Gamecocks in their victory, which head coach Mark Kingston believes locked up an NCAA Tournament berth for this team.

“I thought we were solidly in before, I think this just makes it a slam dunk now,” Kingston said. “Now I think the focus changes to what happens if we go on a run? Can we get in that top 12 RPI now, which could be conceivable playing the teams we’re going to play?

“So it’s amazing what a fine line it can be in this league. What it does to our psyche, I’m glad that our guys got rewarded for enduring a couple of the hardships that we’ve had over the last couple of weeks. Because it feels good to win, man, it really does. It’s hard to win in this league, really hard. And so I’m just glad the guys got to experience that.

“The number one motivation for them was that they didn’t want to have another seven hour bus ride like we had yesterday to get here. So they didn’t want to have to get back on that thing and head back to Columbia today. Now they know they’re gonna be here for a little while. And I’m just really happy that they’re going to experience everything this tournament is.”

Beating Alabama in its own state was no small achievement per Kingston.

“Yeah, well, obviously big win for us,” Kingston said. “Coming into Alabama, playing Alabama in such a big game, I’m just so proud of our team and the effort and the execution. This is our first one in this post-season, I hope we have a lot more, because again, I think this team is very capable.”

In other elimination games own Tuesday, LSU downed sixth-seeded Georgia 9-1 while eighth seed Vanderbilt bested Florida 6-1 and fifth-seed Mississippi State hit a two-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to shock Ole Miss 2-1.
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Van Horn was asked about some of his top memories of the SEC Tournament, a staple at the Hoover Met.

“Well, we were talking about them at breakfast this morning,” Van Horn said. “There’s a lot of good memories here. (Andrew) Benintendi hit one off the scoreboard after midnight and Bobby Wernes fouling off about 10 pitches and hitting a go-ahead home run and us sprinting Zach Jackson to the bullpen so he could close the bottom of the ninth.

“We were down three runs to Florida in an elimination game and it didn’t get started until late, it was probably 1 in the morning and a lot of people missed a really cool game, honestly. That’s one of my good memories.

“Then obviously the run we made in ’21 when we won the tournament and got to bring home that pretty glass-looking trophy for the first time, because everybody said I don’t care about winning the conference tournament.

“Because we always care, you just don’t want to smoke your players. You don’t want to wear them out. So that was a good run. There’s a lot of good memories.

“There have been some that have been quick trips here and you’re frustrated, but when you’re back home and getting ready to play in a regional, you’re kind of going, ‘Hey, maybe we were lucky to get out of there. We can get our feet back underneath us and get strong for the weekend.’ So you never know how this thing’s going to lead you.”

Photo by John D. James

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2024 SEC Baseball Tournament

Tuesday-Sunday, May 21-26

Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Hoover, Ala.

Tuesday, May 21 (single elimination)

Game 1: LSU 9, Georgia 1

Game 2: South Carolina 10, Alabama 5

Game 3: Vanderbilt 6, Florida 1

Game 4: Mississippi State 2, Ole Miss 1

Wednesday, May 22 (double elimination begins)

Game 5: No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 11 LSU, 9:30 a.m., SEC Network

Game 6: No. 2 Arkansas vs. No. 10 South Carolina, approximately 1 p.m., SEC Network

Game 7: No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 8 Vanderbilt, 4:30 p.m., SEC Network

Game 8: No. 4 Texas A&M vs. No. 5 Mississippi State, approximately 8 p.m., SEC Network

Thursday, May 23

Game 9: Loser Game 5 vs. Loser Game 6, 9:30 a.m., SEC Network

Game 10: Loser Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8, approximately 1 p.m., SEC Network

Game 11: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 4:30 p.m., SEC Network

Game 12: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, approximately 8 p.m., SEC Network

Friday, May 24

Game 13: Winner Game 9 vs. Loser Game 11, 3 p.m., SEC Network

Game 14: Winner Game 10 vs. Loser Game 12, approximately 6:30 p.m., SEC Network

Saturday, May 25

Semifinals (single elimination)

Game 15: Winner Game 13 vs. Winner Game 11, noon, SEC Network

Game 16: Winner Game 14 vs. Winner Game 12, approximately 3:30 p.m., SEC Network

Sunday, May 26 (single elimination)

Championship game, 2 p.m., ESPN2

(Last updated: 2024-05-21 22:45 PM)