FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ run of games against ranked opponents ended Sunday.
The Razorbacks were rewarded for their efforts during the stretch a day later.
Arkansas, which played 14 of its past 17 games against ranked teams, has regained a spot in Baseball America’s top 25 poll. The Razorbacks (25-16, 9-9 in Southeastern Conference) are No. 24 after the series win against Vanderbilt (29-12, 8-10 in SEC) and carry the ranking into a midweek series against Northwestern State.
Arkansas will play the Demons (22-17) tonight at 6:35 and Wednesday at 3:05 p.m.
The Razorbacks went 7-7 against the ranked teams over the stretch, winning conference home series against South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Arkansas also split a midweek series against UNLV and went 2-4 combined at Mississippi State and LSU.
“You’ve just got to keep grinding it out and try to stay positive, because there’s going to be bad days in this league,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Sunday. “This league will make you have bad days. If you can go [handle] that, you’ve got a chance.
“If you get frustrated and guys aren’t getting along, it makes for a tough, tough season, but we’ve held strong together. The guys have done a good job.”
Arkansas won its fifth straight SEC home series dating back to last season on Sunday, using a strong pitching performance from starter Chris Oliver. The junior has won his last three starts – all of which came against ranked opponents.
Oliver also has helped the Razorbacks continue their success in a finale. Arkansas improved to 5-1 in the final game of an SEC series this season. Arkansas’ only loss came at Mississippi State after the teams split the first two games of the series.
“Since we’ve been here, and I’ve been here for a while, our mentality has been is if you’re up 2-0 you’ve got to sweep,” Arkansas catcher Jake Wise said. “If you’re split, you’ve got to win, and if you lose the first two, then you can’t be swept. So our Sunday mentality is that you’ve got to come out no matter what happened the last two days, like it’s almost a new series. I think we’ve done that well.”
Arkansas will carry a top 25 ranking into the final half of its nine-game homestand, which began with last Tuesday’s win against Stephen F. Austin. After playing the two midweek games against Northwestern State, the Razorbacks will open a three-game SEC series against Auburn (22-19, 7-11 in SEC) on Friday night.
Van Horn began his Division I head coaching career at Northwestern State, leading the program to a 106-65 record in three seasons before moving on to Nebraska.
Van Horn said coaching the Demons was a “great learning experience,” but it won’t change his plans for the midweek series. Arkansas is 2-0 against Northwestern State since he arrived and Van Horn expects the streak to continue.
So does Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson, who said the Razorbacks won’t take the Demons for granted despite working through a challenging stretch.
“We sure can’t afford to do that right now,” Anderson said. “Our plan is to get after them as early as possible, let our pitchers throw strikes and try and get some other guys in the game that haven’t had the amount of at-bats that we’d like them to.”