DVH’s Off-Brand Coy Approach to SEMO Appears to Be Infectious

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

FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn played coy about his starting pitching plans for the Fayetteville Regional on Thursday, but he did immediately rule out one option.

Right-hander Brady Tygart will not be on the No. 5 Razorbacks’ 27-man roster for the first weekend of the 2024 NCAA Tournament, as he’s dealing with a shoulder injury — the exact nature of which is still unknown.

“They are going to have to do some testing,” Van Horn said following Arkansas’ practice Thursday morning at Baum-Walker Stadium. “I don’t know the exact word, but it is not a ligament. Shoulder is not a problem, but it is something in there that needs a little time.”

This is the first time Van Horn has mentioned an injury with Tygart this year. Previously, the word was that he’d been examined, but everything came back okay.

Still, after back-to-back tough outings against Kentucky and Mississippi State, the Razorbacks skipped his start against Texas A&M and gave him the week off. Tygart returned to the mound at the SEC Tournament and looked great for one inning of his first relief appearance of the year, but things unraveled in his second inning of work.

During his postgame interview, Van Horn was clearly frustrated by his lackadaisical error and the 0-2 home run he allowed to Kentucky’s best hitter, which he then followed with a walk and hit by pitch.

Considering the nature of his injury is still not known, it’s also unclear if he can return for the super regionals if Arkansas advances out of the Fayetteville Regional. However, Van Horn didn’t sound particularly optimistic.

“I want guys when they get on the mound, they feel good about how they feel and they go pitch and not have something going on,” Van Horn said. “The mental part of this game won’t let you perform if you’re thinking like that and if you have got something going on, which he does.”

Losing Tygart is another blow to the Razorbacks’ pitching staff, which will also be without right-hander Cooper Dossett for the rest of the season, Van Horn announced Thursday. 

He left his last appearance, which was May 18 at Texas A&M, with an undisclosed injury. Left-handed freshmen Colin Fisher and Hunter Dietz were previously shut down for the season.

Unlike those others, Tygart has thrown a lot this season and even had a 2.68 ERA as recently as the end of April, which he ended with back-to-back quality starts against South Carolina and Florida.

However, he hasn’t been nearly as effective since then. In his last three appearances, Tygart has allowed 10 earned runs on 10 hits and nine walks with only five strikeouts in 5 2/3 combined innings. He also lost his spot in the starting rotation, falling behind fellow right-handers Gage Wood and Ben Bybee.

“Well, if he was pitching like he could and has in the past then, I would say it is a big loss,” Van Horn said. “If you are talking now — it is a big loss from two months ago, month and a half — but we have been playing down the stretch with short starts and out of the pen, scrambling.

“I would rather start guys that you are not just on pins and needles on how it is going to go. That is just kind of what has been going on when he is on the mound. We just didn’t know how he felt.”

Starting Pitchers for the Fayetteville Regional

The biggest question of the week has been who will start Arkansas’ opening game of the NCAA Tournament against Southeast Missouri State.

It was eventually announced that left-hander Mason Molina (4-2, 4.04 ERA) would get the nod, but that didn’t come until almost 5:30 p.m. — six hours after head coach Dave Van Horn met with the media.

In his press conference, Van Horn purposely didn’t reveal his plans, taking an uncharacteristic football-like secretive approach.

“I’m going to wait until the teams have all practiced. Bottom line,” Van Horn said. “Let them practice without knowing who they’re facing. There you go.”

The decision to go with Molina isn’t particularly surprising because he’s an ace-level pitcher when he’s on and, after a few rough outings, seemed to regain his form pitching out of the bullpen.

In two relief appearances, the Texas Tech transfer not only threw five combined scoreless innings, but retired 15 of 16 batters he faced.

“Molina throwing good those last two outings was like ‘Hey, that’s the guy we brought in here,’” Van Horn said.

By pitching him against the Redhawks, the Razorbacks will save ace Hagen Smith for their second game – which could put them in control of the regional with a 2-0 record or be an elimination game. Either way, having the best pitcher in college baseball available for that game would be huge for Arkansas.

Of course, it must first get past Southeast Missouri State. Head coach Andy Sawyers decided to return Van Horn’s secrecy with some secrecy of his own.

“We know who we’re going to throw,” Sawyers told reporters. “I’m just not going to say anything until we know who they’re throwing, honestly.”

Left-hander Haden Dow was eventually announced as the Redhawks’ starter. He has been their best starting pitcher this year, with a 4.89 ERA and 1.44 WHIP, but only 57 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings.

The two coaches in the other matchup of the Fayetteville Regional, between 2 seed Louisiana Tech and 3 seed Kansas State, were much more open.

The Bulldogs are starting left-hander Luke Nichols, who has been their most consistent starter throughout the season. A first-team All-CUSA selection, he owns a 3.74 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with 81 strikeouts in 77 innings. He’s holding opponents to a .239 batting average.

“We’re not playing any games,” Louisiana Tech baseball coach Lane Burroughs said, seemingly referring to Van Horn’s tactics. “We don’t do that. We’re not trying to flip-flop Friday and Saturday and all that kind of stuff.”

Fifth-year senior Owen Boerema is getting the ball for the Wildcats. A big, 6-foot-5, 225-pound, left-hander who spent the first three years of his career at the Division III level, he has a 4.91 ERA and 1.36 WHIP with 99 strikeouts in 88 innings, while holding opponents to a .243 batting average.

“He’s the rock of our staff,” Kansas State baseball coach Pete Hughes said. “He’s our go-to guy and the guy we want pitching big games for us.

“No moment is too big for him. Crafty is kind of an insulting word, I would think, because he has really good stuff. But he’s a big lefty with a deceptive delivery and he throws a ton of strikes. Like I said, he’s the ultimate competitor.”

Student vs. Teacher

Don’t let Andy Sawyers’ decision to mimic Dave Van Horn’s coyness fool you — there is no bad blood between the two coaches.

In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Sawyers played his senior year at Nebraska for Van Horn, who then helped launch his coaching career.

Asked about his relationship with his former coach, Sawyers gave a very thoughtful answer and shared a cool story about their time together with the Cornhuskers, which we’ve included in its entirety below:

My relationship with him is like any former player-coach relationship, where the player has a ton of respect for the coach. He changed my life, he changed my career. Our story is pretty interesting.

He and Rob Childress arrived at Christmas break at Nebraska my senior year. Coach Van Horn rode me like a rented mule. Like, (he) was hard on me. I was the senior starting catcher. I played every day the year before. I was kind of a catch-and-throw, defender type guy and Coach Van Horn preferred offensive catchers at that time of his career. I lost my starting job and I felt like he was trying to make an example of me every day at practice. He was very hard on me. He was a little more demonstrative when he was younger, I’ll say that.

At the end of the year, I walked in for my meeting and he said, ‘Andy, I was harder on you than you deserved, but I knew you were tough enough to take it. I’m trying to change the culture and I needed to have somebody who could wear it for me. And you were that guy.’ So I was like, ‘Thanks.’ But he said, ‘I know you want to go into coaching. I’ve got a job lined up for you.’ He already had a job lined up for me. I went down to Northwestern State. He had already got it set up. I got to teach classes in the PE department, got to be the volunteer for John Cohen, who’s now the AD at Auburn. He did all of that without my knowing, while he was making an example of me to the team, like riding me hard.

I have the utmost respect for Coach Van Horn. The team that he inherited my senior year, we had four guys living in a house. Three of those four are Division I head coaches. That’s pretty amazing. His coaching tree is long, it’s extensive and all of us, I know, credit a good chunk of our career to having played and worked for him. 

So I have a ton of respect for him. I’d be happy to be at Mississippi State — even though I don’t like those guys very much, right? Just kidding. — but we’re happy to be in this situation. It’s special for me to get to compete against my former coach, I’ll say that.

Lineup Changes Coming for Arkansas Baseball?

Kendall Diggs’ struggles this season have been well publicized. A preseason All-SEC selection, the junior has failed to live up to lofty expectations, hitting just .227 with a team-high 55 strikeouts.

A shoulder injury suffered diving into second base at the end of non-conference play lingered throughout the SEC slate and led to him dipping below the Mendoza line at .189 in conference play.

Now healthy, the issue seems to be more mental for Diggs. That played a part in Dave Van Horn making the surprising decision to hit him in the leadoff spot the last four games.

Fans have openly expressed their displeasure for that move, but Van Horn said it was strategic – even though it didn’t seem to work, as Diggs went just 1 for 16 over that stretch.

“Try to get him going, get him some at-bats,” Van Horn said. “Always thinking about the future, which is now. So, just to try to change it up for him mentally. His biggest thing is he’s got to swing the bat more. He takes a lot of pitches. He knows that. I’d like to see him let it go every now and then, early in the count.”

As one of the team captains, Diggs met with reporters following Thursday’s practice and was asked how he balances trying to work through the struggles physically while not letting things get away from him mentally.

“I think for me, it’s just knowing I’m not out there by myself,” Diggs said. “We have a great staff, my teammates, everybody behind me, showing me that I’m not alone and they’ve got my back.

“You just need to go in there and get your work done, but you don’t want to overanalyze it. … Sometimes it’s just maybe taking a step back mentally and simplifying it as much as you can. Don’t make it super hard. Just try to keep it simple, go back to my roots and remember who I am. I’m here for a reason, all that kind of stuff. That’s helped me and I think it’s turning my way, and I just need to get going.”

Fayetteville Regional Interviews

Arkansas Baseball

Louisiana Tech Baseball

Kansas State Baseball

Southeast Missouri State Baseball

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