FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Dave Van Horn wasn't sure what to expect from Arkansas following a two-and-out performance at the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Razorbacks coach had said his team was built for tournament play because of its pitching depth. He defended the highly touted squad during a midseason slump, remained positive throughout the season but he finally had enough after the lackluster performance at the conference tournament — and he let the team know it by asking the players if they thought they could win an NCAA regional.
"I don't know if you guys have got it in you," Van Horn said. "All year long I've said this team could be a great tournament team, but we haven't proved it yet."
Arkansas (46-22) heard Van Horn's challenge, and it responded by reaching the College World Series for the third time in 10 years under its head coach. The Razorbacks did so behind one of the top pitching staffs in the country — winning the Houston Regional and Baylor Super Regional before falling one win short of the championship series.
The end-of-season performance is one Van Horn won't soon forget, though he'll equally remember the struggles Arkansas overcame to reach Omaha, Neb. The Razorbacks entered the season with lofty expectations and opened 22-3, but a 5-8 midseason stretch and quick exit from the SEC tournament tested the resolve of both the players and coaches.
"The team held it together, and I thought the coaches did a great job keeping it together," Van Horn said. "We stayed positive all year. It was a bad two weeks, and we survived it."
Arkansas' final team ERA of 2.83 was the second best in school history and lowest since 1976. The Razorbacks entered the College World Series with the lowest team mark of any of the remaining teams, and the team's pitching was by design — with Van Horn allocating the majority of Arkansas' scholarships to the staff.
Junior DJ Baxendale (8-5, 3.11 ERA) led the Razorbacks in experience and innings, starting 20 games, but it was the overall pitching depth that stood out. Seven regular members of the Arkansas bullpen had sub-3.00 ERAs, as did starter Ryan Stanek (8-4, 2.82), and the postseason success affirmed Van Horn's decision to focus the scholarship money on pitching.