FAYETTEVILLE – Regardless how far their postseason extends, these Arkansas Razorbacks can say they made it to Omaha.
The No. 20-ranked Razorbacks can say that but they won’t.
Tonight in Omaha, at the same TD Ameritade Park hosting next month’s College World Series, the Razorbacks (30-19, 15-11) play their final nonconference regular-season game against the Creighton Blue Jays (27-16, 10-4 for second place in the Big East).
Game time is 6 p.m. and televised on the CBS College Sports Network and broadcast by the Razorbacks’ radio network.
With all due respect to Creighton, and the Razorbacks should have plenty imparted by coach Dave Van Horn from his Nebraska Cornhuskers years (1998-2002) coaching against Creighton as a bitter rival, the Hogs know well how college baseball defines “going to Omaha.”
“We’re not really going to Omaha,” Arkansas senior left fielder Joe Serrano said. “We’re playing an away game at Creighton. When I say we’re going to Omaha, we’re going for the College World Series.”
Serrano is the only remaining active Razorback who got to Omaha as part of the Razorbacks 2012 College World Series team, the lone College World Series team among the seven, four coached by Norm DeBriyn and three coached by Van Horn, to play its CWS in Ameritrade rather than the old Rosenblatt Stadium.
“It’s a big ballpark,” Serrano said. “It’s a graveyard honestly. Hopefully the new balls (the flat-seam baseballs used this year in college ball) help a little bit. But it’s really going to be a pitcher’s ballpark, just like ours is.”
Arkansas’ Baum Stadium is considered a pitcher’s ballpark, but calling Ameritrade “just like ours” doesn’t seem an exact comparison.
By himself, Arkansas center fielder and national home run leader Andrew Benintendi has hit 16 home runs to Creighton’s six.
Shortstop Ryan Fitzgerald’s three home runs comprise half of the Blue Jays’ round-trippers. First baseman Reagan Fowler. .333, is the lone Blue Jay batting over .300.
Arkansas sports four hitting from .302 to .347 and Benintendi hitting .405 after going 6 for 7 last weekend as Arkansas at Baum split a rainout reduced two-game SEC series with Tennessee.
Coach Ed Servais’ Blue Jays, last playing Arkansas in the 2007 Regional, get it done with pitching and defense.
“Ed Servais does a great job with that program,” Van Horn said. “Recruiting mostly Midwest kids, Chicago kids, they’re always one of the top fielding teams in the country. They’re just extremely well-coached and they’re disciplined, going to be really hard to beat up there.”
Van Horn recalled Creighton’s instate antipathy for his Nebraska Cornhuskers teams.
“When I was at Nebraska, playing Creighton, it was very stressful to be honest with you,” Van Horn said. “It was definitely a rivalry. And it’s still a rivalry. They’re not fond of each other. Both have a good following. It’s kind of a grudge match. It was pretty intense. We had some battles with them, they got a little crazy sometimes.”
More than rekindled personal pride, Van Horn wants this one tonight to improve Arkansas’ NCAA regional seedings beyond next week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., but knows in between the biggest fish to fry are the SEC regular season’s final games Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday afternoon at Georgia in Athens.
So, he will piecemeal a pitching plan tonight.
“I think you’ll see a little bit of everybody,” Van Horn said, of course excluding SEC starters Trey Killian, Dominic Taccolini and Keaton McKinney set to start in Athens.
James Teague, Jacob Stone and Jackson Lowery in small doses with others seems the plan.
“It could be scripted out a little bit,” Van Horn said. “It will be where we don’t probably use somebody too much. Guys can get some work but also be ready to go on the weekend.”
The Razorbacks bused Monday from Fayetteville to Omaha, will fly Wednesday to Georgia then head from Georgia to Hoover.
The SEC Tournament runs May 19-24.