Pros and Cons of Hogs Kicking off NCAA Tourney with An Early Game

Dave Van Horn, Arkansas baseball, NCAA Tournament, Fayetteville Regional
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

Arkansas baseball will once again host a regional, as the Diamond Hogs are the No. 5 national seed for the 2024 NCAA Tournament. If the Razorbacks advance, they will host a Fayetteville Super Regional, as well.

The field for the 2024 Fayetteville Regional is set to include Louisiana Tech, Kansas State and SEMO alongside Arkansas. The game-by-game schedule was announced soon after, with the hosting Hogs slotted to take on SEMO in the early game, with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m. CT Friday. The Bulldogs and Wildcats will square off after that, at 7 p.m. CT.

Arkansas playing in the early game is an announcement that might upset fans, given that a Friday afternoon start time is much harder to navigate with work than a night time first pitch. But Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn clarified at his Monday press conference that taking the first game was a decision that he made, not the NCAA.

Pros and Cons of the Early Game in the Regional

The Head Hog said that taking the earlier game decreases the chances of having to play a doubleheader at some point in the regional.

“Really experienced with both [time slots],” Van Horn said. “Having to deal with the weather if you’re the second game and the first game gets played, and the second game gets delayed or rained out, then you’re having to play super early in the morning and for sure going to play two the next day.”

Van Horn sympathized with fans who will have a harder time making it to the afternoon first pitch, but said that the early slot will be beneficial in case of bad weather. It’s subject to change, but there’s currently a good chance of rain Friday afternoon that could muck up the schedule.

“It cuts into our crowd, or makes it harder for the fans to get here for a [2 p.m. game],” Van Horn said. “We understand that, but as far as for the team, just getting up, going through routine and playing and if there’s weather you have more time to fight it throughout the day.”

In recent years, the NCAA has changed its priorities when it comes to rain delays in the postseason. In the past, the protocol was to get the game in the day it was scheduled if at all possible. That led to some pretty wacky late night encounters, including a Fayetteville Regional showdown between Arkansas and Missouri State in 2017 that lasted until after 3 a.m. – an experience Razorback fans will be all too familiar with.

Nowadays, the scheduling higher-ups are much more amenable to just bumping the game until the next day – no more witching-hour madness, but it comes with the exhausting prospect of playing a doubleheader. That’s what Van Horn is trying to avoid.

Getting the game over with first will also give the Hogs a few more hours of rest before they play their second game. After going 0-2 in the SEC Tournament, being fresh heading into the regional isn’t a concern, so the extra hours in between games this weekend will be much more valuable time off for the team.

Playing at Home in NCAA Tournament a Blessing and a Curse

Van Horn said that he’s looking forward to the chance to play at home, but the team will have to stay focused amidst the circus that comes with hosting.

“The advantages are you get to sleep in your own bed and your surroundings that you’re used to and play in front of your own fans when they get loud and maybe help you flip an inning here or there,” Van Horn said. “Sometimes a disadvantage about playing at home is there are a lot of distractions. People wanting tickets and getting texts and calls, media…there are a lot of things that can distract you when you’re at home.”

Sometimes, being in a less comfortable environment can actually lead to the team being more locked in on the task at hand. That was seen in the 2022 Stillwater Regional, when the underdog Razorbacks upset the hosting Oklahoma State Cowboys before doing the same thing to North Carolina in the Super Regional en route to Omaha.

Arkansas will look forward to the chance to do better in front of the home crowd than it did last year, when TCU stormed through the 2023 Fayetteville Regional and sent the Razorbacks packing.

“Super excited to be hosting another regional. It’s not easy,” Van Horn said. “It’s a long grind, the whole season, and for the most part I think we’ve maneuvered it pretty well.”

Now, the Hogs will look to navigate the postseason gauntlet in pursuit of the program’s first national title that has eluded them for so long.

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Mike Irwin of the Pig Trail Nation gives his take on the Fayetteville Regional:

More coverage of Razorback baseball from Best of Arkansas Sports:

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