Baseball’s a long season, so there’s time to improve


LITTLE ROCK — Razorback baseball fans, don’t panic.

The baseball season lasts for months and losing four in a row in late February and early March does not preclude an appearance in Omaha in June. In fact, what happened to Arkansas in Arizona only underlines how difficult it is to get through a best-of-three series two weeks in a row on the road to the College World Series.

World Series winner San Francisco lost 68 games during the 2012 regular-season; American League champion Detroit was on the short end 74 times.

Yes, the college baseball regular season is about 100 games shorter than the MLB regular season, but Florida was the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year and the Gators were 42-18 during the regular season. Favorites in football and basketball are much more likely to win a national championship than the No. 1 seed in baseball. Since the NCAA moved to its current format in 1999, the only No. 1 seed to win it all was Miami in that first year.

Knowing that Florida was No. 1 in the 2012 preseason poll and did not win a game in Omaha, I checked other preseason No. 1 teams. Turns out the Gators did better than most. Preseason No. 1 in 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008 did not get to Omaha.

A superb opposing pitcher, a costly error, the failure to deliver a hit with runners in scoring position, a questionable call — it doesn’t take much to add up to a loss — and the Razorbacks were victimized every which way. For starters, the opposing pitchers were not chopped liver and Arkansas will not see such consistently good pitching in any three-game series with one team:

• Gonzaga’s Marco Gonzales was one of three finalists for the College Baseball Hall of Fame’s John Olerud’s Two-Way Player of the Year Award. Gonzales, 8-2 last year with a 1.55 ERA, shut out the Razorbacks on eight hits and struck out nine. Pitching for Team USA that won a bronze medal, he was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA, striking out 19 in 16 innings, and allowing two walks.

• In that competition in Korea, Team USA lost to Canada 1-0. The winning pitcher was Arizona State’s Ryan Kellogg, who pitched 8 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. Kellogg gave up one run in six innings when Arizona State defeated Arkansas 3-1.

• Arizona State’s Brett Lilek, a left-handed freshman making his first start, allowed one run in five innings and struck out six, including three after Arkansas loaded the bases in the second. The Illinois Player of the Year, 4-0 in the high school playoffs with an 0.00 ERA, has topped 90 mph.

• Coach Dave Van Horn said Arkansas was either 1-for-20 or 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position. ” … that will turn around,” he said.

So will the W-L record.

Borrowing an idea from Ghostbusters, another group of Razorback athletes split up because they could do more damage that way.

Arkansas track coach Chris Bucknam sent his distance medley relay team to South Bend, Ind., for what amounts to an elimination competition for one of the 12 spots in the NCAA Indoor meet this weekend in Fayetteville. The 14 fastest qualifying times were recorded on Notre Dame’s over-sized track and Arkansas was No. 8.

Texas, previously the No. 1 qualifier, remained in Austin and got knocked out of the NCAA.

In Fayetteville, Razorback Akheem Gauntlett improved his qualifying time in the 200 meters and ran a qualifying time in the 400. Teammate Marek Niit also qualified in the 400. Arkansas senior Leoman Momoh recorded the fastest qualifying time in the 800, a bolt from the blue considering he was not in the top 16 prior to Friday.

Favored along with Florida, the weekend developments strengthened the Razorbacks’ position.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com.