FAYETTEVILLE – From personal experience, both Arkansas’ coach and its starting pitcher tonight know at least one reason not to take the Tennessee Volunteers lightly in this final SEC series of the season at Baum Stadium.
The red hot Razorbacks — with a No. 20 national RPI off their 29-18 overall and 14-10 third-place SEC West records after a 1-5 SEC start — host the Vols (19-24 overall and at 7-17, languishing in the SEC East basement) at 6:30 p.m. tonight, 6 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday with only a Tuesday nonconference game at Creighton and a Thursday-through-Saturday SEC series at Georgia left before commencing the postseason at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
The Vols may not look like much visiting an Arkansas team that has won six consecutive SEC series and recorded its first three-game SEC sweep last weekend rolling the Alabama Crimson Tide three games in Hoover, but Tennessee left fielder Christin Stewart always impresses Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and Trey Killian, the junior right-hander from Norfork via Mountain Home High starting for the Razorbacks.
Van Horn and Killian have shared time with Stewart in the same dugout.
“Tennessee is a good team,” Killian said. “I know a guy or two over there. Christin Stewart plays outfield for them, he was on Team USA.”
Van Horn was the coach and Killian a pitcher for Team USA last summer.
“They’ve got a couple guys in the lineup that can really hurt you, like Christin Stewart, who I had the opportunity to coach this past summer,” Van Horn said. “He led our team in hitting. Tremendous hitter.”
Stewart, .318, sports Tennessee’s second highest batting average, and with a team-leading 13 home runs and 41 RBI, is just two home runs the nation-leading 15 by Arkansas sophomore center fielder Andrew Benintendi and only five RBI behind Benintendi’s 46.
Second baseman Nick Senzel leads Tennessee with a .327 batting average, while Benintendi leads the SEC at .386.
For starting pitching, the Vols regularly start right-hander Bret Marks (4-5, 3.09 ERA), lefty Drake Owenby (2-6, 4.13) and last weekend against Texas A&M started Hunter Martin (1-2, 4.36).
A&M swept the Vols last weekend in Knoxville, Tenn., but the previous SEC weekend, the Vols won two of three at South Carolina and also beat Ole Miss in two of three at Knoxville.
Arkansas tonight starts Killian (2-3, 5.40 and winning at Alabama last week) and follows Saturday with Dominic Taccolini (6-3, 4.57) and Sunday with Keaton McKinney (4-1, 3.06).
Barring the Razorbacks hosting a NCAA regional, this Arkansas-Tennessee series marks the Baum Stadium finale for Razorback senior left fielder Joe Serrano and senior relievers Jackson Lowery, Jacob Stone and Lance Phillips. Also barring hosting regionals, it seems all but certain to be the forever final farewell to Baum for prime Major League draft eligible juniors Killian, third baseman Bobby Wernes and right fielder Tyler Spoon and Benintendi, draft eligible as a sophomore turning 21.
“I think about it being their last series, last time we get to come out here and play in front of their home fans,” Van Horn said of his seniors and prime draft possibilities. “They’ve put in a lot of time and hours here. Some of these guys it was four, five, six years ago when we recruited them, brought them in finally. Spent four years here, it’s like anything else, you put a lot of time into it and it’s not there anymore there’s a lot of emotions. Hopefully it’ll be a good weekend for these guys.”
Obviously they would like another Baum weekend down the road hosting a regional.
However, Van Horn stressed the Hogs didn’t get ahead of themselves beyond the next game turning around their 1-5 SEC start and certainly aren’t going to start talking now if they are in regional consideration.
“We haven’t mentioned it to them at all to have a chance to host, and I don’t even know if we have a chance to host,” Van Horn said. “At this point I’m really not too concerned about it. If we win a couple series in a row, then I’ll start talking about it a little bit, because I’m sure it’ll be something that’s talked about.”