FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas baseball team hasn’t enjoyed weekend series success on the road in Southeastern Conference play this season.
But coach Dave Van Horn’s team has been successful in one way during losses to Mississippi State, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss. The Razorbacks haven’t been swept.
Arkansas, which has been in an 0-2 hole in three of those road series, has been impressively strong in fighting off a three-game sweep on the road this season. The latest came with an 11-1 win in the series finale at Ole Miss on Sunday, which was the Razorbacks’ largest margin of victory in a conference game this season.
It was similar to results at Florida (9-3 win) and LSU (10-4). The final game performance is a reason Arkansas (30-20, 11-13) — despite its struggles most of the season — remains in the hunt for a 12th straight NCAA Regional appearance.
“It’s huge,” Van Horn said. “You hang in there by not getting swept. And if you do get swept, you’ve got to sweep somebody to make up for it. Win as many series as you can. When you get a chance sweep somebody get it, but don’t get swept.
“They’ve done a good job of finding a way to win a game.”
The Ole Miss win came after a pair of frustrating losses last Friday and Saturday.
Arkansas suffered a 3-2 loss in the opener, falling to 6-11 in one-run games this season. The Razorbacks scored four runs to open the second game of the series, but couldn’t grab any more en route to a 7-4 loss that helped Ole Miss clinch the series.
The Rebels took a 1-0 lead in Sunday’s finale. But Arkansas scored 11 straight.
“We didn’t dwell on it,” Van Horn said about the 0-2 hole at Ole Miss. “We just talked about it a little bit. Talked about playing hard and being tough. You know, got a couple of guys injured, just got to play through it. They came through in a big way.
“That was a big win for our team mentally. And then it also kept us in the race.”
Arkansas (30-20, 11-13 in SEC) had hoped for a series victory as it boarded the bus for Oxford, but grabbing at least one win proved to be productive.
The Razorbacks moved from No. 59 to No. 54 in the NCAA’s RPI this week. The climb was the direct result of two road wins, which are weighted more in the RPI. Arkansas opened the week with a win at Missouri State in its final midweek game of the regular season and closed it with the series finale in Oxford, Miss.
It doesn’t mean Arkansas is a sure bet for the NCAA Tournament field with six games left in the regular season. The RPI is a tool used by the selection committee to determine the NCAA Tournament field and Arkansas has had one of the SEC’s lowest RPI’s this season. The Razorbacks currently rank 12th out of 14 teams.
But the Razorbacks are 9-9 against top 25 RPI teams, including series wins at home against Vanderbilt (No. 5), South Carolina (No. 11) and Alabama (No. 25). Arkansas also has those three road wins at Florida (No. 2), Ole Miss (No. 12) and LSU (No. 17).
“We’ve battled,” Van Horn said. “We knew it was going to be a battle in fall ball going into the season because we lost a lot of kids. We had inexperienced people that were going to be out there. But they’ve handled it. They’ve survived it. We’ve got six more to go. If we could win a couple series that would be really big for us.”
Arkansas’ next opportunity begins against 20th-ranked Texas A&M on Friday night.
Van Horn believes the Aggies, who are No. 32 in the NCAA’s RPI, are one of the hottest teams in the conference after winning consecutive weekend series against Mississippi State and LSU. But Arkansas can’t afford another series loss at home after Auburn beat the Razorbacks twice at Baum Stadium two weeks ago.
Arkansas also wraps up SEC play with a three-game series at Missouri (No. 111).
The Razorbacks would be assured of a conference record of .500 or better with two series wins to close the regular season. It also would help Arkansas secure a spot in the 12-team SEC Tournament and, most likely, an NCAA Tournament berth.
“We can still get to where we want to go,” Van Horn said. “We just have to take care of it ourselves and we know that. So we’ll keep fighting.”