Razorbacks, Bears Provide NCAA Regional Surprises

Chris Murray Bio
There were surprises aplenty for the two in-state college baseball teams still playing as the NCAA Regionals took shape this weekend.

For the Arkansas Razorbacks, advancing to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and having 20 total wins over SEC teams, was not good enough to earn a regional hosting bid. Instead, the Hogs will be the No. 2 seed at the Manhattan, Kan., regional, where they will play Bryant University, opposite host Kansas State and Wichita State.

On the other end of the spectrum is the University of Central Arkansas Bears. UCA stunned the Southland Conference by winning five games in three days to take the automatic bid from the Southland in Sugar Land, Texas. For their efforts, the Bears will get to take on top-seeded Mississippi State at the Starkville, Miss., regional.

The Razorbacks not being selected to host came as a surprise to many. The Hogs had the third best record in the SEC, and went a combined 5-1 against South Carolina and Mississippi State, including a three-game sweep of the Gamecocks in Columbia. The Hogs defeated Ole Miss on Wednesday, and then had an impressive 4-1 win over No. 2 LSU on Thursday. LSU bounced back, and in the semifinal round it downed the Hogs 3-1. Due to the new tourney format, the Hogs were eliminated with just one loss.

It was interesting to note during the broadcast of that game that both ESPN’s Kyle Peterson and Kendall Rogers of perfectgame.com stated with certainty that Arkansas should be a host. Arkansas’ bugaboo, a strangely low RPI rating, whose formula this year seemed counterintuitive, was described as “garbage” and “seriously flawed” by Peterson.

Ultimately, it appears that the RPI is what cost the Hogs. A few bad losses (Western Illinois, Pacific, Nebraska twice) sure didn’t help, nor did giving away a couple of SEC games they seemed to have in hand.

There’s a chance that getting sent on the road could be a blessing in disguise. The Hogs won 10 of 14 SEC road games. Of course, last season, they blazed through the Rice regional and Baylor super regional on their way to Omaha. Perhaps getting away from home, and the relative disappointment of the regular season, combined with added motivation at this slight, could be just what Arkansas needed.

The Hogs face Bryant University at 7 p.m. Friday. The Bulldogs, champions of the Northeastern Conference, have a record of 44-16-1. Bryant is located in Smithfield, Rhode Island. The Kansas State-Wichita State game is set for 2 p.m. The Manhattan regional is paired opposite the Corvallis regional, with host Oregon State.

UCA’s inspired run in Texas washed away a fairly disappointing Southland Conference regular season. After a stellar non-conference run, the Bears stumbled out of the gate in Southland play with a sweep at Oral Roberts and finished 12-15. That earned them the no. 7 seed in the tourney.

The Bears dropped their opener to Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, and then stayed alive with a win over Stephen F. Austin. They then defeated A&M-CC and Oral Roberts on Saturday. That set up a rematch with ORU in the semis. UCA won that game Saturday morning, 11-3. Freshman Connor Gilmore fired a 2-hit shutout against Southeastern Louisiana in the championship game later that afternoon.

UCA cracked the top 25 early in the year, thanks in large part to wins over Wichita State, Oklahoma State and a series win over Mississippi State in Starkville in March. The Bulldogs will surely be familiar with the Bears, and vice versa. UCA is an experienced, confident club, and shouldn’t be intimidated despite this being the school’s first-ever NCAA trip. UCA-MSU is set for 7 p.m. The Starkville Regional, which also features South Alabama and Mercer, is paired with the Charlottesville (Virginia) Regional.


The road has been unkind to the Arkansas Travelers this past week. The Travs snapped a five-game losing streak with an 8-6 win Sunday over Corpus Christi. Arkansas (25-23) is clinging to a half-game lead in the Texas League’s North Division entering tonight’s game with the Hooks. Arkansas returns home Tuesday night to host San Antonio.

Things didn’t go any better for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. They too lost five straight before taking the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader at San Antonio. After one more game with the Missions, the Naturals return to Arvest Park to host Corpus Christi on Tueday. NWA (15-32) is 9.5 games out of first.


Coaches, SIDs, baseball fans from around the state: got a tip or interesting note? Pass it on to ctmurray@gmail.com

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