Van Horn happy for former Diamond Hogs that led Tennessee to national title

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2024-06-26 15:03 PM


FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas head baseball coach Dave Van Horn admits he had a clear rooting interest in this year’s College World Series – albeit the result was somewhat bitter sweet.

Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello was an assistant for Van Horn at Arkansas from 2014-2018 while associate head coach/recruiting coordinator Josh Elander was a Razorback volunteer assistant in 2017 and Director of Player Development Luke Bonfield played for Arkansas from 2015-2018.

The Vols downed Texas A&M 6-5 on Monday night to win their first-ever national championship by taking 2 of 3 from the Aggies.

“I’m not going to say I was rooting against A&M, but I wanted to see Tennessee win,” Van Horn said. “I mean, Tony worked hard here, Josh worked hard here. Bonfield played here. Those are my friends. I feel like I’ve helped them over the years, and they’ve helped me. I talk to them a lot throughout the season. So I’m happy for those guys.”

Vitello made it a point to praise and thank Van Horn and Arkansas for his and his team’s success.

“I did it as an assistant at Arkansas and because Coach Van Horn gave me that opportunity and also helped lead me along the way,” Vitello said. “I think one thing I would like to say I think some of them appreciate that I hustled around down there. Most of them hate me, which is fine, but what they need to realize is their program definitely had a hand in what happened tonight. There is no question about that.

“So I am thankful for my personal opportunity, but guys like (pitcher) Zander (Sechrist) and (oufielder) Dylan (Dreiling) are benefactors of the guy who I think is the best coach in the country, and Coach Van Horn is who I’m talking about.”

Van Horn was appreciative of Vitello’s comments.

“Yesterday probably mid-day I got a screenshot of what was said,” Van Horn said. “So I pulled it up and tried to find it, just wanted to hear what he had to say. I really appreciate it.

“It’s bittersweet because they won it and we didn’t. People are happy there and people are not happy here. Really for what we do here, we’re trying to develop people. We’re trying to develop our players into men and good people.

“On the coaching side, have these guys go out and be successful and have a career. Even Andy Sawyers at SEMO, coached him, he coached with me a little bit. I coached him hard and he mentioned it that I was kind of tough on him, because I thought he could be better than he was. I think he appreciates it not. But yeah, I appreciate that a lot, I really do.” 

Van Horn was not surprised that Tennessee and Texas A&M ended up as the final two combatants at a CWS that started with four SEC teams and four ACC ones.

“Looking back at the teams that made it to the series, I thought Texas A&M, when we played them, was the best team we played all year by far…really talented,” Van Horn said. “We didn’t play Tennessee. I think Tennessee might have the best pro talent.

“Somebody sent a survey out to all the SEC coaches, asking who do you think will win this series? I said Tennessee, because I felt like that A&M had lost their No. 2 starter, they had lost their switch-hitting 3-hole hitter (Braden Montgomery) that had 80 RBIs. And they still played good. They pitched really well there.

“If you bring back their No. 2 starter, they might have won it. That’s the way it works. You have to be a little bit lucky. You have to be injury-free.”

Kentucky and Florida were the other two SEC reams that made it to this year’s CWS.

“I thought the SEC did a great job,” Van Horn said. “Kentucky was really solid. They were good at everything. They could field, they could hit, they pitched well. They’re just really hard to beat. And Coach (Nick) Mingione and his staff did a great job putting that team together, and that was a good mix of transfers and some kids that came through their program.

…But yeah, the College World Series was amazing. I thought the fans were amazing. The hoopla was amazing. The announcers did a great job pumping up college baseball, and I did watch some. I think if you watch, when you watch as a coach, you watch as a fan because you’ve got a couple of your former coaches coaching and players on a team.”

Van Horn was also clear about how disappointed he was in how his team finished being ranked No. 1 for a part of the season and a top five team heading into the NCAA Tourament.

Arkansas (44-16) won a second straight SEC Western Division championship, but lost 9 of its last 13 games, including going 1-2 while hosting a regional.

“The league that we play in is amazing,” Van Horn said. “To try to get through it every year and finish at the top is very hard. Sometimes, like this year, we just didn’t play well at the end of the year. … No talking around it, that’s just the way it was. We didn’t play good. We didn’t pitch good. We have a couple games where we hit the ball extremely hard. But yeah, it was disappointing the way it finished against SEMO.”

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Van Horn was also asked about Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle leaving the Aggies to take the Texas job under athletic director Chris Del Conte.

“Yeah, well we knew he was buddies with Del Conte at Texas,” Van Horn said. “We knew three weeks ago that Texas was going to let their coach go,” Van Horn said. “ Turmoil inside of their program. If you look at the (Texas) wins and losses, it’s been pretty good getting to Omaha, been pretty good. Just been other problems. I think somebody was there that wanted somebody else, and there you go.

“Am I surprised? Not really. But then again, I am a little bit because of what was going to go on at A&M. They’d already made a lot of commitments to upgrade the stadium. Their fanbase is huge, passionate, they show up, they make a lot of noise, they make it really hard for you to win there, they have a lot of tradition. I don’t know. It’s in Texas. There’s a lot of players, a lot of players to recruit right down the road in Houston, up the road in Dallas and over there and over there.

“…Like I said, you can see me, I don’t know what to think about it. You can get involved in those situations that all you have to do is make a call or send a text, and next thing you know things are happening. It’s a tough situation when you jump from one school right down the road to another one. They don’t like each other in the first place.

“It’s going to be interesting in our coaches meetings. I don’t know who A&M is going to hire. I just know our league is really really good and when Texas comes in and OU comes in this year, it’s going to be even better.” 

Photo by John D. James

(Last updated: 2024-06-26 15:03 PM)