FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Welcome, Arkansas bandwagon fans. Nice to see you, per usual, this time of year. You know the Razorbacks are in the NCAA Tournament this weekend. We know you know because, otherwise, you don’t show up much around here.
Oh, the Diamond Hogs have plenty of season-long fans. Loads and loads, in fact. More than most other college baseball teams. But let’s not sit here and pretend the Razorbacks have the same number of people who follow along all season as even basketball. College baseball is still more niche sport than mainstream one.
So, with that in mind, here is a bit of a primer for what to expect at Baum Stadium for the Fayetteville Regional.
First, your team.
1. Arkansas Razorbacks
The Diamond Hogs will play at Baum Stadium yet again. It’s the second straight NCAA Tournament that Arkansas has hosted. That’s two straight years as a No. 1 regional seed, or a national top 16. It’s the first time that’s ever happened in Dave Van Horn’s tenure.
Arkansas features multiple All-SEC honorees. Blaine Knight, who will start Friday against No. 4 seed Oral Roberts, was a second-team pitcher. He was joined on the second team by third baseman Casey Martin and outfielders Eric Cole and Heston Kjerstad. Second baseman Carson Shaddy was named first-team All-SEC. Martin and Kjerstad were on the SEC All-Freshman team and Kjerstad was named conference Freshman of the Year.
The Diamond Hogs were one of only five teams in the country to finish in the top 30 in the nation in both batting average and earned run average. Oregon State and Minnesota are also hosting a regional on the weekend. St. John’s, one of the other two in the top 30, is in the NCAA Tournament as well. The final team to achieve that is …
2. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Southern Miss has made it out of a regional once in school history. That was in 2009 and it went on to the College World Series. But the Golden Eagles are familiar with this stage. This is their third straight NCAA Tournament — one longer than Arkansas’ streak — and they made it every year from 2003-09.
Individually, Southern Miss is stacked. The best hitter in the whole tournament might be Conference USA Player of the Year Luke Reynolds. CUSA Pitcher of the Year Nick Sandlin also is a candidate for a high-round selection in the MLB draft next week. Outfielder Matt Wallner also made first-team all-conference.
3. Dallas Baptist Patriots
For a team that’s only been playing Division I baseball for 13 years, Dallas Baptist has built itself into quite an impressive power. This year marks the eighth NCAA Tournament appearance for the Patriots since making the jump up to DI in 2005. It’s also the fifth straight appearance for the Patriots.
Dallas Baptist didn’t win the Missouri Valley Conference, falling to Missouri State in the championship. But the Patriots absolutely owned the postseason awards. Devlin Granberg is the Player of the Year. Trevor Conn is the Pitcher of the Year. Kody Funderburk is the Newcomer of the Year. Jimmy Glowenke is the Freshman of the Year. Catcher Matt Duce was a first-team all-conference selection, as were Jameson Hannah and relief pitcher Kragen Kechely. Loaded.
4. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
Other than a three-year stretch from 2012-14, Oral Roberts has been one of college baseball’s small-conference powerhouses. The Golden Eagles have made the NCAA Tournament every year since 1998 except those three. They even went to a Super Regional in 2006.
This Golden Eagles team probably isn’t quite as good as most of those other teams, though. Oral Roberts has the third-lowest RPI among the teams in the NCAA Tournament. But, like Dallas Baptist, Oral Roberts carried the major awards in the Summit League. Ryan Folmar was named Coach of the Year, Riley Keizor was Newcomer of the Year, Miguel Ausua was Pitcher of the Year and Noah Cummings was Player of the Year. Seven other Golden Eagles players made first- or second-team all-conference.