Hogs Should Look Up to This NCAA Champ for Inspiration in Light of Offensive Woes

Will a Scuffling Offense Doom Arkansas?

Peyton Stovall, Arkansas baseball
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — After Arkansas put the finishing touches on a sweep of Ole Miss early last month, Dave Van Horn walked over to his good friend Mike Bianco to share a few words before heading their separate ways.

As two of the three longest tenured coaches in the SEC, they are believed to have squared off more than any other duo in conference history. Needless to say, they also know each other very well, so Van Horn was able to easily read between the lines when Bianco complimented his team.

His comment was, ‘Man, you’ve got a real good pitching staff and you guys are solid,’” Van Horn told the Swatter’s Club on Monday. “Basically he said, ‘You can’t hit.’ So I might throw that to the hitters every now and then — Coach Bianco said, ‘You can really pitch, you have a really opportunistic offense.’”

That came after a series in which the Razorbacks put up 20 runs on 27 hits over three games, slashing .284/.410/.474 as a team — an offensive explosion by 2024 standards. They haven’t scored that many runs or notched that many hits in any of the four series since.

Arkansas’ team slash line has dipped to .271/.390/.444 and it is scoring only 6.8 runs per game this season. Those numbers have been even worse in SEC play, as the Razorbacks are slashing just .240/.355/.402 and averaging only 5.3 runs. In conference games only, they rank 12th in batting average and slugging percentage, 11th in home runs (32), 13th in doubles (29) and 10th in scoring. Arkansas does rank near the top of the league in walks, though, leading to the eighth-best on-base percentage in SEC play.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Despite all of that, the Razorbacks are a unanimous top-5 team already with 40 wins and lead the SEC West at 17-7 with two weeks left in the regular season. They’re also sitting pretty in the RPI at No. 3 nationally.

With series against teams ranked No. 19 and No. 1 in the RPI, plus the SEC Tournament, remaining before the NCAA Tournament, Arkansas is in great position to earn a top-8 national seed. That would allow it to play at Baum-Walker Stadium until heading to Omaha, assuming it can get that far.

“We’re 40-9 and it’s crazy to think that we’re 40-9 and we’re still not real happy about it,” Van Horn said. “I guess that’s where our program is now, which is great. It’s really hard to win, it’s hard to win every year.”

That’s just what Arkansas has done, though. In addition to three College World Series appearances, it is the winningest program in college baseball since 2017. That’s on top of what was already a great run from 2003-16 under Van Horn and 33 years before that under legendary coach Norm DeBriyn.

The only thing missing from the Hunt Center trophy case is a national championship. Fairly or not, this Arkansas baseball team will be judged on whether it can finally get over the hump.

Led by what was widely viewed as the best pitching staff in the country, some experts believed this could be the year the Razorbacks win it all. Heck, that’s even what this site predicted before the season.

The aforementioned offensive struggles, though, have become a cause for concern. Can a team scuffling at the plate as much as Arkansas win the College World Series?

Best of Arkansas Sports looked to recent history to see if there’s a precedent for such a run. Here’s what we found…

Pitching, Defense and… *Some* Offense

The Razorbacks do have a couple of things working in their favor — pitching and fielding. They are elite in both of those areas.

Even though it recently fell behind Lamar and is now second nationally in ERA (3.36), Arkansas still leads the country in WHIP (1.14), hits allowed per nine innings (6.68) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.2). It also owns the third-best fielding percentage in the country at .982.

Generally speaking, that’s a good combination in baseball.

“If you can pitch and you can field, you can be in most every game and that’s what we’ve done,” Van Horn said at the Swatter’s Club.

Of course, you still have to score some runs — even if those two areas greatly reduce the amount needed — and the Razorbacks currently rank 146th and 188th out of 295 Division I teams in scoring and batting average, respectively.

Since 2017, there have been six instances of a team entering the NCAA Tournament with a top-15 ERA and fielding percentage, but a batting average outside of the top 100.

Three failed to make it out of a regional, two were knocked out in the super regional and one made it to the College World Series. That team? None other than the 2022 Arkansas Razorbacks, which went into the postseason ranked 13th in ERA (3.92) and ninth in fielding (981), but 194th in hitting (.269).

Hope for Arkansas Baseball

That Arkansas team flipped a switch in the postseason, hitting .307 across its 11 NCAA Tournament games. It came up one win short of playing in the CWS finals, falling to our first example of a recent national champion that should give fans hope — 2022 Ole Miss.

The Rebels squeaked into the postseason as one of the last teams in and caught fire, winning their first title in program history. They did it by finally living up to their potential, which had made it the No. 1 team in the country earlier in the season.

Ole Miss was better across the board in the NCAA Tournament, posting a .286 batting average, 2.00 ERA and .980 fielding percentage in its 10-1 run through the postseason. In the regular season, it had hit just .277 along with a 4.68 ERA and fielding .971.

That was a historic run that may never be duplicated, but the good news is that Arkansas doesn’t need to do that — it just needs to improve one area, similar to the 2022 team that lost to Ole Miss in the semifinals.

But what if the bats never get hot? Are the Razorbacks doomed to suffer another agonizing final loss — whether it be in a regional, super regional or Omaha?

Not exactly. Allow us to introduce you to the 2017 Florida Gators.

Unlike the 2022 Ole Miss team, Florida dominated the SEC that year. It tied LSU for the SEC regular-season championship with a 21-9 conference mark and earned the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Despite all of that winning, Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad hit a paltry .259 with only 53 home runs in 71 games. The Gators were actually hitting .267 entering the NCAA Tournament, so not only did their bats fail to heat up, but they actually got worse in the postseason, hitting just .222.

No one on the roster — starter or reserve — hit above .300. Only one player, JJ Schwarz, had double-digit home runs.

Their run to the title was fueled by a loaded pitching staff. Florida’s starting rotation featured a trio of first-round picks in Brady Singer, Alex Faedo and Jackson Kowar. Michael Byrne, meanwhile, set the single-season school record for saves.

The Gators were very good on the mound during the regular season, ranking 38th nationally with a 3.69 ERA, but took it to another level by posting a 2.41 ERA in the NCAA Tournament. They also continued to play defense at an elite level, with a .981 fielding percentage.

Arkansas may not have three first-rounders in its starting rotation, but Hagen Smith is the potential first pitcher off the board this summer and Brady Tygart and Mason Molina are excellent college starters when they pitch up to their capabilities. It also has a deep bullpen, especially if Will McEntire can return to form.

That may be the best formula for the Razorbacks to make a run to the College World Series and potentially win it. Like every team that wins a national title, though, they’ll need a little luck along the way.


For more analysis of the Hogs’ struggling offense, check out this breakdown from Arkansas fan Cory Stewart, who’s known by many as StewHog on YouTube:

YouTube video


What else do the Hogs need to do to make a run to Omaha? Here’s some analysis from a former Arkansas baseball player.


YouTube video
YouTube video


More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS… 

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