Analysis: No. 1 Diamond Hogs keep finding new ways to win


The top-ranked college baseball team just keeps on finding ways to win on the diamond.

Consensus No. 1 Arkansas (27-3, 11-1 in SEC play) has amassed the best record in program history through 30 games and currently carry a 21-game home win streak, the first time that has happened  since the Razorbacks were playing at George Cole Field in in 1989.

Arkansas will try to extend that Tuesday night at 6 p.m. when it faces San Jose State (12-19, 7-8 in Mountain West  action) in a two-game midweek series at Baum-Walker Stadium that will conclude Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Both games will be streamed by SEC Network +.

This streak has helped build the team’s confidence, as they have played from behind and captured games and series with confidence and ease.

The panic button fans saw in the 2024 Regional Final against TCU is not there. They believe that each at-bat is going to have a positive outcome, and that kind of confidence has led to the winning streak, along with elite pitching.

“Yeah, I mean, this team reminds me of a couple of our teams in the past that were pretty consistent and just good,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horne. “ I think about the ’21 team, the ’18 team. Just hard to beat. Pretty consistent. Throw the ball over the plate. Field it mostly.

“We come to the park, we’re confident. I just want our guys to get… You just can’t… You’re not going to win them all. You’re going to get beat. But just play. Show up and play hard. And that’s what they’ve done. That’s what we talked to them about, and we play with a little bit of energy.”

Arkansas secured its first sweep of Ole Miss last weekend, the first under Van Horn and first since 2002.

They previous weekend the Razorbacks completed the second sweep of LSU in the previous three years.

The Tigers are the defending national champions, but Tiger head coach Jay Johnson is 3-8 against Van Horn.

Rebels head coach Mike Bianco has fared better, 43-36 in head-to-head matchups against Van Horn after this last series.

Arkansas has shown it is built to overcome early-inning run deficits. The two big keys to this point are hits with runners in scoring position and the bullpen holding teams to a .162 batting average over 110 2/3 innings with a 1.91 ERA.

The Razorbacks lead the league in team ERA by almost an entire run at 2.83 and saves with 16.

Van Horn alluded before the season that pitching depth has been the best it has ever been, top to bottom, since he has been in Fayetteville.

The  2018 starting staff and bullpen were consistent all the way to the College World Series final.

Starters Blaine Knight, Kacey Murphy, and Isaiah Campbell combined to go  27-12 in 53 starts.

Knight carried the ace role and was perfect at 14-0 as the starters punched out 262 batters and walked 79 in the deepest run a Razorback baseball team has ever made in the College World Series.

The 2024 starting staff has 30 starts so far this season with weekend starters Hagen Smith (6-0, 1.76), Mason Molina (3-0, 3.38) and Brady Tygart (3-0, 2.70), and midweek starters Colin Fisher (5-1, 2.25) and Ben Bybee (1-0, 0.00) for  a combined 18-1 record, striking out 219 and walking 59 batters.

Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs is finally getting to work with a primarily healthy group that is starting to show their potential. One could argue that the bullpen is the strength of this team with all the accolades that have ascended on the starters to this point in the season.

It seems Van Horn has had the opportunity to use a pitching algorithm each night of the weekend series. Fans get used to seeing the same guys on the same nights in the same spots.

“Baseball is a game of habit and repetition; few teams can achieve this kind of comfort. To complement the elite pitching is the quality at-bats this lineup is taking, and it has led to this lineup catching fire at the plate, and the numbers prove it.

Arkansas’ team batting average is .283, and they have hit 44 home runs, but the offense has shown balance at the plate, and they are making opposing pitchers pay when they have given up walks.

The one constant both Jay Johnson and Mike Bianco stressed was the Hog’s ability to push runs across when pitches are giving up free passes at the plate.

Arkansas has drawn 170 walks, and all the credit goes to batting coach Nate Thompson. Thompson got hammered on social media last year a good bit because of the lack of quality at-bats. He has kept the consistent message, and the players are taking quality at-bats, as the numbers show.

“That is why they are very good and win a lot of baseball games,” Bianco said on the walks. “We put a bunch of zeros up, but once you give them a little breath, they seem to take advantage of it.”

This lineup needed a bat that could change the way pitchers approached this lineupand Van Horn found that in freshman Nolan Souza. That added dimension makes it hard to face batters 1-6 now. His emergence was a delight to the coaching staff, too.

“After the holidays, we thought, ‘This guy’s really made a move.’ Sometimes the move is more mental,” Van Horn said about Souza coming back from Winter Break. “He was excited about the season, and he went back home for the holidays and stayed in great shape. He came back in here, and he looked like he was going to get an opportunity to play some. We just didn’t know where.

“Then, the first time we put him in a game, he looked like a polished hitter. I mean, he looked great. We thought, ‘Hey, this guy is going to help us,’ so we kept going, and obviously he’s turned into a starter.”

Souza was just named the SEC Freshman of the Week after posting a .571 batting average (8-12 at the plate), 9 RBIs, three home runs, and scoring four runs.

His bat has changed the complexion of the lineup. His power is a difference-maker that opposing pitchers have to navigate around. He is second on the team in homers with six; his average, .357, leads the team with 53 plate appearances in 20 games.

“It’s hard DHing,” Van Horn said. “The rhythm is on the field, off the field, getting a bat, hitting it, and going back to the field. When you’re just DHing, you have to really stay locked in and focused. Really watch for tendencies and think about your at-bats and watch what they’re doing to other left-handed hitters or whatever hitter you are and how they’re pitching them. You can pick something up; it might make a difference. I think he does a great job of that.”

The other half of the Hawaiian-born Pineapple Power Alley is Wehiwa Aloy, who has a team hight in home runs (8) and RBIs (32).

He has a 12-game hit streak entering the two-game set with San Jose State Tuesday. He has adjusted well to the weather and coach Van Horn kids with Aloy on days that could freeze out the most hearty Arkansan. As it heats up, the rest of the bats are coming around, which could mean more plate production from this lineup.

Photo by John D. James

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