FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said his team’s doubleheader disappointment against South Alabama took him by surprise.
The Razorbacks had been solid through the first seven games of the season. They started the weekend series strong, too, grabbing a 12-1 win against the Jaguars at Baum Stadium. So he doesn’t believe anyone would’ve predicted the result.
“South Alabama just came out and outplayed us,” Van Horn said. “They threw more strikes than we did. They didn’t make any mistakes in the field and they got some timely hitting. And we didn’t do a whole lot of that. That’s what cost us.”
Arkansas (7-2) hopes to bury the frustration when it hits the road for the first time this season, playing four games in three days during the Cal Baseball Classic in Berkley, Calif. The Razorbacks open the tournament against San Francisco (5-6) at 4:30 today, then play Tulane (8-3) on Saturday at 3:30. Arkansas will wrap up the road trip with two games against tournament host California (8-2) on Sunday.
The Razorbacks are confident their doubleheader struggles won’t last as they return to the field for the first time since suffering two losses to South Alabama. They’re out to prove that last Saturday was simply a bad day and nothing more.
“Obviously, we were upset,” said Arkansas right fielder Tyler Spoon, who leads the Razorbacks with 12 RBIs. “But you’ve just got to learn from it and move on. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes and keep going. Unfortunately, it happened, but we can’t do anything about those games now, so we’ve just got to keep getting better and better and be more mentally prepared for this weekend.”
The Razorbacks have traveled west to play in an early-season tournament for the second straight year. They’re hoping for a much better experience after going 0-4 at the Coca-Cola Classic in Arizona last March. Arkansas lost to Gonzaga, Pacific and twice to Arizona State during their four-game stay in the field.
Van Horn expects his team to face more challenges this weekend. The Razorbacks will continue to get experience for a young pitching staff. Arkansas also knows it must improve an offense that managed four runs in the doubleheader loss.
“We had a little meeting about how to slow down the pitcher,” Arkansas left fielder Joe Serrano said, pointing toward one topic of conversation aimed at improving the Razorbacks’ work at the plate. “When you’re in the box, it’s your time. It’s not you on the pitcher’s time. We just let them quick-pitch us all weekend.”
Serrano leads the way for the Razorbacks at the plate, entering the tournament hitting .389 after a strong series against South Alabama. Arkansas is hitting .285, but Van Horn said he isn’t too concerned about the batting average.
The number he cares about — Arkansas’ .407 on-base percentage — is solid after nine games after batters have been walked 40 times and hit by pitches 23 times.
Driving base runners in is key, though. It didn’t happen at critical times against South Alabama. Van Horn believes the top half of his lineup is doing its job, but needs more production from the rest of the group. Two players he pointed to were first baseman Eric Fisher (.156 batting average) and catcher Jake Wise (.050).
“It’s not about batting average, it’s about your approach,” Van Horn said. “It’s about making contact. It’s about driving in runs. You’ve got to put the bat on the ball with runners in scoring position, less than two outs. Especially from third base. You know, that’s the biggest thing with (Fisher). He’s kind of streaky. We need him to get hot and gain some confidence. To me, both of them it’s confidence.”
Arkansas is hoping it’s one of many improvements during its final weekend before Southeastern Conference play begins.
The four-game tournament is part of a seven-game road trip for the Razorbacks, who will open SEC play at Florida on March 14.
“We’re not going to be overlooking anybody,” Serrano said. “The last two games kind of slipped away from us. We’re not going to let that happen again. … Baseball is a game of failure, and it’s about how you deal with failure.”