Following a stellar season in which it won a share of the regular-season SEC title, the Arkansas baseball program has earned the No. 3 national seed for the 2023 NCAA Tournament and will host the Fayetteville Regional, it was announced Monday.
That means the Razorbacks, as long as they continue to win, will play at Baum-Walker Stadium through the first two weekends of the postseason. Their next road trip, if they advance that far, would be to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.
“It’s really good to play at Baum-Walker in front of our fans, who are extremely loyal,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “They show up and it ought to be an exciting weekend.”
Arkansas (41-16) will host TCU, Arizona and Santa Clara in a four-team, double-elimination regional beginning Friday.
At Van Horn’s request, the Razorbacks will play the early game, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT and will be streamed on ESPN-Plus. The TCU-Arizona nightcap is set for 8 p.m. CT on ESPNU.
The winner of the Fayetteville Regional will face the winner of the Terre Haute Regional, which is hosted by No. 14 national seed Indiana State and also features Iowa, North Carolina and Wright State. Those two winners will square off in a best-of-three super regional the following weekend.
It is the 10th time in school history that Arkansas has hosted a regional and the fifth time in the last six NCAA Tournaments. The only time it didn’t host during that stretch, which began in 2017, was last season. The Razorbacks won the Stillwater Regional and Chapel Hill Super Regional to reach the College World Series for the third time in four tries.
This is also the sixth time Arkansas baseball has hosted as a top-eight national seed, with four coming since 2018. Of the previous five, it made it to Omaha three times.
“I think that mentally we’re in a good place,” Van Horn said. “I hope they take a little time to sit back and realize what a good season we’ve had and that we’ve put ourselves in position to play here as long as we win. … Some of our goals at the beginning of the year were obviously to get to this point and have an opportunity and continue to play in a regional and here we are.”
Here’s a quick look at the four teams in the Fayetteville Regional…
Arkansas Baseball Opponents in Fayetteville Regional
2 seed: TCU Baseball
Record: 37-22 (13-11 Big 12)
RPI: No. 33
Head coach: Kirk Saarloos (2nd season)
This is a matchup that could have Arkansas baseball fans either salivating at the idea of a rematch or nervous about the prospect of facing a hot and talented team that maybe underperformed much of the year.
“What a really talented team,” Van Horn said. “Older team. Veteran team. Good mix of speed and defense. Power. … We felt like we’d get somebody from the area. Wasn’t sure it would be TCU. But they’ve had a great year.”
In the second game of the season, the Horned Frogs blew out Arkansas 18-6 at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas — a game that was tied 4-4 through four innings.
That followed a dominant 11-4 win over Vanderbilt – another top-eight national seed – in the opener, so TCU looked like a bonafide top-10 team at the time. However, it struggled in Big 12 play and eventually dropped out of the rankings altogether.
The Horned Frogs were closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble than the top 25 entering a non-conference series against Cal State-Fullerton in early May, but after dropping the series opener, they flipped a switch. They have won 12 of their last 13 games, with only a one-run loss to Kansas State mixed in. That includes a 4-0 mark in the Big 12 Tournament in which they outscored opponents by a combined score of 48-15.
Third baseman Brayden Taylor is TCU’s top prospect, checking in at No. 22 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the top 150 prospects for the 2023 MLB Draft, and is hitting .305 while leading the team in home runs (21), RBIs (59), runs (67), walks (47), slugging percentage (.650) and OPS (1.080).
Freshman Louis Rodriguez (4.53 ERA, 47 2/3 IP) emerged as the Horned Frogs’ Friday night starter as they got hot, but missed the Big 12 Tournament last week because of a shoulder impingement. However, according to Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball, the right-hander is expected to be back for the regional.
It’s unclear if TCU might put him right back into the Game 1 slot or go with another freshman, right-hander Kole Klecker (4.04 ERA, 75 2/3 IP), to open the regional against Arizona.
Another starting option for the Horned Frogs is junior right-hander Cam Brown (5.25 ERA, 48 IP), who the Razorbacks roughed up for four earned runs on five hits and a walk in 1 2/3 innings back in February.
3 seed: Arizona Baseball
Record: 33-24 (12-18 Pac-12)
RPI: No. 45
Head coach: Chip Hale (2nd season)
One of the biggest surprises of the NCAA Tournament field was the inclusion of Arizona, as final projections by D1Baseball, Baseball America and Perfect Game had the Wildcats on the outside looking in. Instead, they were one of the last four teams to make it.
The Razorbacks haven’t played Arizona since 2018, when a solo home run by a freshman named Heston Kjerstad was the difference in a 1-0 neutral-site win in San Diego. However, Dave Van Horn is somewhat familiar with this year’s Wildcats because he’s watched them a handful of times when they’ve been on television late at night.
“They look very physical to me, a little older team,” Van Horn said. “I know Tennessee played them, I think to open the season, and I think Arizona beat them out there in Arizona somewhere in a tournament. So I don’t know a whole lot about them. I know that league out there is awfully good. I know they were a team that had to wait to see if they got in and they got in, so I’m sure they’re extremely excited to be playing.”
In that game against Tennessee, which was their season-opener at the MLB Desert Invitational, the Wildcats chased projected top-10 pick Chase Dollander in the fifth and pulled out a tight 3-1 victory.
That was part of a 12-3 start to the season that also included a sweep of Pac-12 foe California. From that point on, though, Arizona was a .500 ballclub, going 21-21 with an abysmal 9-18 conference mark.
What likely punched the Wildcats’ ticket was a strong finish down the stretch. It started with a wild 21-20 win over Stanford to avoid a sweep and included a midweek win over UC-Irvine and a series win over USC — two fellow bubble teams. They nearly won the Pac-12 Tournament, taking down another bubble team (Arizona State) and two NCAA Tournament teams (Oregon State and Stanford) to reach the title game, where they fell to Oregon 5-4.
Arizona comes to Fayetteville with a lot of firepower, slashing .320/.406/.552 as a team — numbers that rank ninth, 33rd and seventh, respectively, in all of Division I.
Left fielder Chase Davis, MLB Pipeline’s 53rd-best overall prospect in the 2023 MLB Draft, leads the charge. He is hitting .369 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs, plus he’s been very productive in his last 11 games, driving in 26 runs and hitting seven long balls.
The Wildcats also have center fielder Mac Bingham (.369, 10 HR, 51 RBI) and first baseman Kiko Romero (.347, 19 HR, 86 RBI) putting up video game-like numbers, not to mention two others regulars hitting at least .335.
Pitching is a different story, though. Arizona has a 5.87 team ERA and only one pitcher with multiple innings this season that has an individual ERA under 4.50.
Right-hander T.J. Nichols is a top draft prospect, checking in at No. 148 on MLB Pipeline’s list, but has struggled this year. His 8.08 ERA is the second-worst on the team, regardless of innings pitched, and he’s allowed opponents to post a .903 OPS.
Instead, the Wildcats’ three primary starters of late have been:
- Jr. LHP Bradon Zastrow: 5.28 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 56 K/24 BB, 76 2/3 IP, .306 BAA
- So. RHP Aiden May: 6.50 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 70 K/30 BB, 70 2/3 IP, .317 BAA
- Jr. RHP Cam Walty: 5.33 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 48 K/8 BB, 49 IP, .296 BAA
4 seed: Santa Clara Baseball
Record: 35-18 (17-10 WCC)
RPI: No. 81
Head coach: Rusty Filter (6th season)
When asked what he knew about his team’s first opponent in the NCAA Tournament shortly after the selection show, Dave Van Horn smiled and said bluntly, “Nothing.”
It was no disrespect toward Santa Clara, but rather a reflection of the fact that it’s a program that plays two time zones away and doesn’t exactly get much national television coverage.
Van Horn eventually acknowledged that the Broncos won the WCC Tournament, which they did so after finishing tied for second in the league and behind only Loyola Marymount.
“I know that they’re a champion,” Van Horn said. “They won. They won something. They’re a championship team.”
Despite not having a single first-team all-conference selection, Santa Clara managed to win nearly two-thirds of its games, go 5-5 against the Pac-12 and post the best RPI in the West Coast Conference – more than 20 spots better than everyone else in the league.
The Broncos’ lone second-team All-WCC selection in the field is Michael O’Hara, who is hitting .323 with three home runs and 37 RBIs, but he’s far from their only offensive threat. Efrain Manzo leads the team in home runs (17) and RBIs (54) while still hitting .318, Robert Hipwell has a team-high .329 batting average to go along with 14 home runs, 39 RBIs and a team-high 45 walks, and then there’s the Brigman brothers – Dawson (.317, 6 HR, 32 RBI, 12 SB) and Coleman (.303, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 10 SB).
The two most prominent base stealers on the team are JonJon Berring (.326, 15-22 SB) and Malcomb Williams (.280, 16-22 SB).
Santa Clara’s two other second-team All-WCC selections are on the pitching staff and both of them are relievers: sophomore right-hander Blake Hammond and junior right-hander Skylar Hales. Throw in senior right-hander August Souza and they form a very formidable bullpen trio who have combined for a 2.37 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with 157 strikeouts and only 49 walks in 129 1/3 innings.
Who the Broncos might start in Friday’s game is unclear, as they don’t have a single dominant ace. Here are their four primary starting pitchers this year:
- So. LHP Brandon Gomez: 16 G/8 GS, 3.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 51 K/10 BB, 54 IP, .273 BAA
- Sr. RHP Cole Kitchen: 16 G/15 GS, 4.25 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 67 K/33 BB, 78 1/3 IP, .236 BAA
- Sr. RHP Jared Feikes: 17 G/13 GS, 5.05 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 52 K/22 BB, 66 IP, .250 BAA
- Sr. LHP Nick Sando: 14 G/10 GS, 6.65 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 44 K/22 BB, 47 1/3 IP, .258 BAA
How TCU Baseball Fans Feel
Here’s a sampling of posts from TCU baseball fans – who seem to be split in their opinion – on a message board, KillerFrog.com, regarding the Horned Frogs’ selection to the Fayetteville Regional:
TCU drew a tough regional.
We got a great draw
Zona didn’t deserve a bid and we know we can beat Arky
Wow. I guess they are all kinda tough but this will be a tough one.
Man I will take Zona and Arky over Wake Forest and most of the 3s all day long
Next to LSU, this is the worst draw. Arkansas at home is tough Very tough.
Fayettenom is a tough place to play.
I feel pretty good about it.
I’ve watched them lose. I think we can make them lose.
How to Watch Arkansas Baseball in Fayetteville Regional
Arkansas vs Santa Clara – 2 p.m. CT (ESPN+)
TCU vs Arizona – 8 p.m. CT (ESPNU)
2023 NCAA Tournament Field
For the first time in the current NCAA Tournament format, which began in 1999, one conference will host half of the 16 regionals. In addition to Arkansas baseball, the SEC’s hosts include Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
“I think it speaks volumes to the talent that’s in our league,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “A lot of future big leaguers play in the SEC. Week in and week out, you’re always playing a good team. Whether they’re winning or not, they have ability, obviously. You have to play well.”
However, it’ll be Wake Forest out of the ACC who will try to break the curse of the No. 1 overall seed. The Demon Deacons took over the top spot in the rankings from LSU late in the season and maintained it the last few weeks. The only time the No. 1 seed won the national championship was 1999, when Miami (Fla.) did it in the first year of the current format. Arkansas (2021) and Tennessee (2022) failed to even make it to Omaha the last two years of the NCAA Tournament.
|Winston-Salem Regional||Tuscaloosa Regional|
|(1) Wake Forest||(16) Alabama|
|2. Maryland||2. Boston College|
|3. Northeastern||3. Troy|
|4. George Mason||4. Nicholls State|
|Gainesville Regional||Columbia Regional|
|(2) Florida||(15) South Carolina|
|2. UConn||2. Campbell|
|3. Texas Tech||3. North Carolina State|
|4. Florida A&M||4. Central Connecticut State|
|Fayetteville Regional||Terre Haute|
|(3) Arkansas||(14) Indiana State|
|2. TCU||2. Iowa|
|3. Arizona||3. North Carolina|
|4. Santa Clara||4. Wright State|
|Clemson Regional||Auburn Regional|
|(4) Clemson||(13) Auburn|
|2. Tennessee||2. Southern Miss|
|3. Charlotte||3. Samford|
|4. Lipscomb||4. Penn|
|Baton Rouge Regional||Lexington Regional|
|(5) LSU||(12) Kentucky|
|2. Oregon State||2. West Virginia|
|3. Sam Houston||3. Indiana|
|4. Tulane||4. Ball State|
|Nashville Regional||Stillwater Regional|
|(6) Vanderbilt||(11) Oklahoma State|
|2. Oregon||2. Dallas Baptist|
|3. Xavier||3. Washington|
|4. Eastern Illinois||4. Oral Roberts|
|Charlottesville Regional||Conway Regional|
|(7) Virginia||(10) Coastal Carolina|
|2. East Carolina||2. Duke|
|3. Oklahoma||3. UNC-Wilmington|
|4. Army||4. Rider|
|Palo Alto Regional||Coral Gables Regional|
|(8) Stanford||(9) Miami (Fla.)|
|2. Texas A&M||2. Texas|
|3. Cal State-Fullerton||3. Louisiana-Lafayette|
|4. San Jose State||4. Maine|
Arkansas Baseball as a Regional Host
Here’s a look at the previous nine times Arkansas baseball has hosted a regional in Fayetteville:
- 1999: Went 1-2 in Fayetteville Regional
- 2004: No. 8 national seed, advanced to College World Series
- 2006: Hosted as a 2 seed, went 1-2 in Fayetteville Regional
- 2007: No. 7 national seed, went 2-2 in Fayetteville Regional
- 2010: Won Fayetteville Regional, lost in the Tempe Super Regional
- 2017: Went 3-2 in Fayetteville Regional
- 2018: No. 5 national seed, advanced to College World Series
- 2019: No. 5 national seed, advanced to College World Series
- 2021: No. 1 national seed, 1-2 in Fayetteville Super Regional
Watch Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn discuss his team’s draw in the 2023 NCAA Tournament…
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