With the SEC baseball season winding down, the Diamond Hogs have one more feat before them. In the middle of a four team race for the SEC West, Arkansas (34-17, 13-14) has a chance to put some pressure on Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State tonight.
The Diamond Hogs in the past two weekend series have gone (3-3) against top 5 teams South Carolina and Florida. Overall against SEC West opponents, the Hogs have gone (7-5) and (10-9) against top 25 opponents. With the top four teams in the West sitting at (13-14) and Ole Miss sitting at (12-15) there will be added pressure on the Rebel Black Bears to play catch up right away. Unfortunately, they will face Arkansas’ ace, D.J. Baxendale tonight to start off the three game series. Baxendale has been nothing shy of fantastic in his 9 starts this season. D.J. (8-1) is the owner of a 1.57 ERA and 59 strikeouts. It seems that every time he needed to make a big pitch to get out of a jam, he would reach down deep and deliver an inning ending strike or induce a ground ball for a double play. But as big a story as Baxendale is, I believe that freshman Dominic Ficociello is a bigger story. The freshman has not only produced this season, the California bred Ficociello has been a leader on offense for the Hogs this season batting .363 with four home runs, 47 runs batted in and has a 12 game hit streak going into tonight’s game. It’s rare for a freshman to come into the SEC and be as productive as Ficociello has been, but under the leadership of Dave Van Horn, Dominic has flourished. Not to mention, Ficociello has been named to Team USA along with teammates James Mccann (pending draft status) and D.J. Baxendale. Dave Van Horn will be serving as an assistant coach on Team USA.
One big advantage the Hogs have over Mississippi is in the stolen base department. The Hogs have stolen 104 bases while Mississippi has more home runs (43) than stolen bases (41). The next closest teams in stolen bases are Tennessee and LSU with 83 apiece. With the post season looming large, the Diamond Hogs would love to host a regional at Baum Stadium where they hold a (22-6) record. A few analysts believe that if Arkansas can 1.) sweep Ole Miss 2.) win the Western Division title, that is more a probability than a possibility. Earlier this week, Arkansas hosted Tennessee-Martin and came away with a 6-2 win. While a win is always good, Kyle Robinson had 5 RBI’s. It could be chalked up to the fact that maybe the Hogs were looking forward to this weekend finale, but regardless of why, the Hogs need to remain focused on Ole Miss this weekend. The Arkansas pitching staff ranks 4th in the SEC with a collective 3.28 ERA and have allowed 183 runs. While this seems like a large number, Ole Miss has allowed 248 runs.
One interesting tidbit from the team statistics is in the ground into double play section. Arkansas has grounded into a double play only 17 times this season, while Ole Miss has done so 41 times. That along with Ole Miss’ poor base running could provide the Hogs with yet another advantage. One thing that could help lean this series in Arkansas’ favor would be the resurgence of Nolan Sanburn. The former starter turned bull pen aficionado, started the season strong but after disappointing outings at Auburn and Georgia, Sanburn seems to have less confidence on the mound than in previous outings. If the issues with Sanburn can be settled it would just add to the firepower in the Hogs pitching staff arsenal. All in all if Arkansas wants to host a regional, they need to play lights out this weekend and show the selection committee that Baum Stadium is an excellent choice. The Hogs know it, Dave Van Horn knows it, and more importantly, Ole Miss knows it.
What the Hogs need this weekend is the support of the strongest fan base in the SEC. Earlier this season the attendance record for Baum Stadium was broken as the Hogs hosted LSU, and that’s understandable, Hog fans love to hate LSU. But the three games this weekend are much bigger than any game against LSU. Three good outings could be the difference between hosting a regional and traveling to Fullerton to play in a regional.
Follow James Moseley on Twitter @james_moseley