Arkansas Remains In Not Just Good, But Great, Company Despite 2023 Postseason Punch Out

Tavian Josenberger, Arkansas baseball
photo credit: Baumology

By now, the fact it’s another season without a national championship for Arkansas baseball or head coach Dave Van Horn has fully settled in.

Despite how incredibly difficult winning the big trophy is in any sport, especially baseball, one would think the Razorbacks are teetering on the edge of implosion while massively underachieving based on some of the reactions out there. Disgruntled fans are lighting up message boards, social media and radio call-in shows wondering when DVH is going to get it done. Passive baseball fans are wondering why national championships just don’t land in our lap.

Simply put: making it to Omaha isn’t good enough anymore, while falling short of the College World Series reeks of failure.

Failure is a pretty harsh word and certainly isn’t the case with Arkansas baseball. Especially in 2023, when the team got bad news on the injury front just before the season started with the Jaxson Wiggins injury and all the way through the season up to the last weekend with Peyton Holt going down. Much like Nick Smith Jr. and Trevon Brazile this past basketball season, injuries to key players are super difficult to overcome. This isn’t a lame excuse. These are facts.

But somehow Musselman made the Sweet 16 and somehow Van Horn won an SEC regular-season championship and landed the Hogs the national No. 3 seed. The reason is those dudes can flat coach. Not just Xs and Os, but building rosters, managing talent and all the other things that go into big-time college coaching.

The “Monster” Dave Van Horn Created

I can assure you Dave Van Horn is fully aware of the “monster” he has created and the expectations that come with it. And that is okay with him, his coaches and the players who put on a Razorback uniform. They know the Arkansas Razorbacks are a top-tier college baseball program that puts a product on the field that wins and wins a lot. Take notice I didn’t say “upper tier” — they are past that grouping.

In the fall of 2022, ranked Arkansas baseball at No. 2 in its latest Top 100 College Baseball Programs list, with Vanderbilt at the top. For reference, Arkansas was 12th in 2015, 13th in 2017, and third in 2019. That’s a pretty nice trajectory and nothing about 2023 should knock the Razorbacks back a notch. Only Florida, which is still alive and ranked No. 4, has a shot to surpass them. 

For reference, Mississippi State was No. 3, but has been abysmal since winning it all in 2021. Ole Miss is No. 8 and also whiffed after winning in 2022. LSU was 12th, as they haven’t been the same dominant program they were under Skip Bertman. I’d guess it will jump up some with this season’s success and a proven winner in Jay Johnson at the helm.

But back to the Razorbacks and the standard Van Horn has created and, for the most part, lived up to: Arkansas baseball leads the SEC in conference wins since 2017. Arkansas is 116-63 in that time span, which is only six seasons given the pandemic wiped out conference play in 2020. That’s good enough for a 65% winning percentage against the best and deepest league in the country. Best-of-the-best type of stuff. Florida is next at 61%, followed by Vandy at 60%. Alabama brings up the rear with a 34% conference winning percentage, barely edging out Missouri.

Coupled with all those SEC wins are two regular-season championships, four SEC West titles and one SEC Tournament championship. And oh yeah, trips to Omaha in 2018, 2019 and 2022, with a runner-up finish in 2018 and a third-place finish in 2022. That’s a staggering amount of success that deserves way more credit than the National-Championship-or-Bust, Keyboard-Coaching crowd provides.

Will Arkansas Baseball Ever Reach the Top?

If they only knew how hard it is to get so close to the top of the mountain and how hard it is to stay there. Especially in the transfer portal era and the impact of the MLB draft changes given Arkansas and other signed players that never make it to campus. 

But the reality is Dave Van Horn and the Razorbacks may continue to win and win and win but maybe never get the big one. Mike Martin is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA baseball history and went to Omaha 17 times without ever winning it all at Florida State.

If you recall, his team beat the Razorbacks 1-0 in the 2019 College World Series in his final season. Clemson (12 trips to Omaha) and North Carolina (11) are both historical and modern-day successful programs with hall of fame coaches and neither has won a national championship. Mississippi State (12 appearances) had never won one until 2021 despite all their success and a team in 1985 that had four guys that went on to be Major League All-Stars (Will Clark, Rafael Palmiero, Bobby Thigpen and Jeff Brantley). 

I’m confident that Van Horn will break the seal this decade. And who knows…maybe that one leads to another and another. Vandy has captured the title twice under Tim Corbin with championships in 2014 and 2019. Oregon State ran off three in 2006, 2007 and, yes, 2018. South Carolina went back to back in 2010 and 2011. So winning it all multiple times is not impossible but it is very, very hard to do.

But if you think about all the national champions dating back to 2003, when Van Horn took the Arkansas baseball job, who has had more consistent success – especially in the last six seasons? Lacking the time to do the full research, I would guesstimate the Hogs have a better stretch or right on par with LSU, Miami, Texas, Rice, Cal State Fullerton, Oregon State, Fresno State, South Carolina, Arizona, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Coastal Carolina, Florida, Mississippi State or Mississippi since 2003.  Some of those past winners are nowhere close to truly competing for a national championship today. A few are completely irrelevant or trending the wrong way.

A Big Ask for Arkansas Baseball Fans

So…would you trade a national championship to only be followed by bottom-of-the-barrel seasons like Ole Miss and Mississippi State, or declining to complete irrelevance? That’s a tough question to answer, but I know where I land on it. I will take being in the hunt season after season after season because one has to believe the Hogs will get it done one of these years.

Maybe this year’s roster, completely or even mostly healthy, would have gotten it done. Stinks because we will never know. They were definitely built to give it a run; with a little luck, and the right matchups, this could have been the year. 

Dave Van Horn and his Arkansas baseball staff will be sweating out the MLB Draft this summer, as they have signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Also, managing the comings and goings of the current roster coupled with bringing in ready-to-play talent from the transfer portal will factor into how next year’s team looks.

There will be lots of opportunities all over the diamond based on who is out of eligibility and who should go high in the draft. That will be appealing to the next Tavian Josenberger, Jace Bohrofen, Jared Wegner-type impact transfer. Especially with Hagen Smith, Brady Tygart, Will McEntire, Koty Frank and hopefully Dylan Carter returning on the mound. 

That team will be built to win. Again. The talent will be there. The best coach in the business will be there. 

Maybe 2024 will be the year.


Brent Birch is a former Arkansas baseball player who lettered from 1990-93 and is still on the UA’s career top-10 list for games started and innings pitched.


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