Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SPORTS >> 2009 Hogs provide a lot of fond memories

By NATE ALLEN
Nate Allen Media Services

FAYETTEVILLE ó Though all eight qualifying SEC teams advanced into the 2009 NCAA Regional postseason anyway, the supposedly irrelevant league tournament seldom has seemed more relevant.

At least, to the two SEC teams which reached the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Eschewing the conventional wisdom that the SEC regular season champ would be better off losing early in the league tournament to refresh for NCAA Regionals, the LSU Tigers won it all in Hoover. They have been winning ever since.

They swept their Regional and Super Regional in Baton Rouge and swept their four-team College World Series bracket in Omaha to reach the national championship series against Texas.

Texas is the unbeaten winner of the other CWS four-team bracket.

The Arkansas Razorbacks, the SECís other College World Series team, likely owe their Omaha trip to the SEC Tournament.

Without their 2-2 SEC Tournament showing itís hard to imagine the Hogs catching fire like they did in the postseason.

Starting with a nine-run eighth-inning to overcome first-round foe Washington State, 10-3, the Razorbacks won the Norman Regional, including two wins over favored host Oklahoma.

They then swept favored Florida State in the Super Regional in Tallahassee before stunning favored Cal State-Fullerton, 10-6, at the CWS. They followed all that by winning a thrilling 4-3, 12-inning epic against Virginia.

Who knows? Perhaps if not bracketed with LSU, which was simply better than these Hogs, Arkansas might be the team this week playing LSU for the national championship.

Texas is awfully good, but those were awfully good Cal State-Fullerton and Virginia teams the Hogs beat in Omaha.

The Arkansas team that embarrassed itself in being swept at home in its final regular-season series against Ole Miss ó the last two losses were 9-3 and 16-3 surrenders ó was not the same inspired team that stormed out of Hoover.

Arkansas did lose its last SEC Tournament game 11-1 to Vanderbilt. However, in that game, as in the 14-5 elimination game with LSU last Friday in the bracket final, Arkansas ran out of pitching, not moxie.

Those 8-5 and 10-7 victories over SEC East champion Florida in Hoover and an exquisitely played 10-inning 2-1 loss to Georgia, restored confidence in Hog futures.

Coach Dave Van Horn made the move in Hoover that saved the season. For it was opening the SEC Tournament that Van Horn decided the best way to replace shortstop Scott Lyons, injured during the Ole Miss series, was to move senior second baseman Ben Tschepikow to shortstop and install freshman reserve Bo Bigham at second.

Both parts of the revised tandem made the All-SEC Tournament team and starred when Tschepikow fractured his ring finger after being struck by a Virginia pitch.

These 41-24 Hogs will be remembered for sweeping the Regional in Norman, sweeping the Super Regional in Tallahassee and becoming Van Hornís first of four teams (two at Nebraska and his 2004 Hogs) to win games at the College World Series.

None of those memories, however, would have been possible without that supposedly irrelevant conference tournament in Hoover.