Van Horn impressed with Vols
FAYETTEVILLE — Seven SEC baseball teams are ranked in USA Today’s Top 25 Coaches poll, led by No. 1 Tennessee (27-1) and No. 2 University of Arkansas (21 -5).
Vols coach Tony Vitello, a former Arkansas assistant, led Tennessee to a school-record 19-game winning streak since losing 7-2 to Texas at Minute Maid Park in Houston on March 4.
The Vols, who swept the SEC series from South Carolina at home and on the road at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, lead the conference in several categories, including a .325 batting average, 1.80 ERA, 69 home runs, a .433 on percentage basis, 181 walks and 48 stolen bases.
“Tennessee is so far ahead of everyone in every stat, it’s unbelievable,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Monday at the Swatters Club meeting. “They’re having an incredible year with super veteran players, a veteran bullpen and some really young starters.”
Van Horn said he’s spoken to Vitello and Vols assistant Josh Elander — a former volunteer assistant from Arkansas — a few times this season.
When Van Horn mentioned Vitello, it made the crowd laugh.
After the Razorbacks won 3-2 at Tennessee in last season’s series finale to win two of the Vols’ three games in Knoxville, Tennessee, Van Horn and Vitello got into a heated discussion.
“Yeah, we’re still talking,” Van Horn said with a smile to himself and Vitello. “I broke the ice there. I waited about 10 days last year after the little incident.
“We’re all good, at least in my eyes. Life’s too short, right?”
In last season’s SEC Tournament, Van Horn and Vitello shook hands on the court between games the day before Arkansas beat Tennessee 7-2 to win the championship.
Vitello said at the time that Van Horn was a mentor and just wanted to congratulate him on a good streak last season.
“I didn’t want to argue,” Vitello said during the SEC tournament. “He was frustrated that I didn’t do it, so he made a point of saying it. That’s when I said something that really should be dealt with off the pitch.
“So his reaction, I don’t think was out of line, and that’s what kind of grabbed the attention.”
Arkansas and Tennessee are not expected to play this season.
Other SEC teams in the Coaches’ Poll are No. 8 Ole Miss (19-8), No. 10 Georgia (22-6), No. 12 Vanderbilt (20-7), No. 16 LSU (19-9) and No. 22 Florida (18-10).
Arkansas opens a series in Florida on Thursday night.
Texas, which will move to the SEC from the Big 12 conference no later than 2026 for baseball, is ranked No. 6 and has a 21-9 record.
Dick Hughes, who pitched at Arkansas in 1958, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Razorbacks’ game against LSU on April 16.
According to Razorbacks baseball administrator Kevin Trainor, this will be the first time Hughes has visited Fayetteville since the 1960s. Hughes retired to the town of Stephens in southern Arkansas County. of Ouachita.
At the age of 29, major league players voted for Hughes as the National League Rookie of the Year in 1967. Baseball writers voted Mets NL Rookie of the Year Tom Seaver of New York.
Hughes was a starter for the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the World Series in seven games against the Boston Red Sox in 1967, his only full major league season.
Hughes was 16-6 with a 2.67 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 1967, and his .727 winning percentage was the best in the NL.
Hughes suffered a rotator cuff injury in the spring of 1968 and retired from playing in 1969. He spent five more years as a coach or scout for the Cardinals.
Arkansas is 7-2 in the SEC West to lead the division by two games over second-placed Auburn, which is 5-4.
“I feel like we’re getting better,” Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said. “We kind of like where we’re sitting right now, because we can be better.
“Some teams are probably as good as they can get, and they’re going to go the other way. Some guys are going to run out of gas.
“We feel like we’ve paced our guys pretty well and our best days are ahead of us. The only problem is we’re up against some really good teams coming up. So we know we’re going to earn our share, and we’ go lose some.
“But the main thing is that we want to be really good at the end of May.”
Nine former Razorbacks are expected to be on opening day rosters when the major league season begins on Thursday.
They are: pitchers Dallas Keuchel (White Sox), Drew Smyly (Cubs), Ryne Stanek (Astros), Jalen Beeks (Rays), Trevor Stephan (Guardians) and Zach Jackson (Athletics); wide receiver James McCann (Mets); outfielder Andrew Benintendi (Royals); and infielder Brian Anderson (Marlins).
Jackson, who pitched for the Razorbacks from 2014 to 2016, has yet to make his major league debut. Benintendi and Keuchel won the Gold Glove Award last season.
Smyly, of Little Rock Central, became a free agent after winning a World Series with the Braves.
Arkansas leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally with a .986 fielding percentage. The Razorbacks committed 14 errors in 974 chances on the field in 26 games.
“It’s like playing in the big leagues,” Van Horn said. “We have an outstanding infield, good catches and a strong outfield. That’s one of the reasons we have the record we have.”