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Arkansas, LSU set to collide in SEC series

by Bob Holt | April 30, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn’s first road series at LSU as the University of Arkansas baseball coach in 2004 couldn’t have gone any better.

The Razorbacks not only won a series at LSU for the first time, they swept three games, beating the Tigers 11-8, 11-10 and 7-5 in Baton Rouge.

It remains the only three-game series Arkansas has won at LSU in 14 tries going back to 1992.

Before Arkansas joined the SEC, the Razorbacks lost a two-game series at LSU in 1963 and split a two-game series in 1986.

Arkansas is 20-41 against LSU overall under Van Horn, including 5-16 on the road since 2006. Van Horn also was 2-3 against the Tigers when he was the Northwestern (La.) State coach, including 2-2 in Baton Rouge.

The No. 1 Razorbacks (32-7, 13-5 SEC) will try to win a series at LSU (25-15, 6-12) for the first time in 17 years when the teams open a three-game set at 6 tonight at Alex Box Stadium.

“We won the conference championship that year, so we had a good team,” Van Horn said of the 2004 Razorbacks finishing atop the SEC at 19-11. “But yeah, it’s been a tough place for us, a tough place to win a series.”

Paul Mainieri, who became LSU’s coach in 2007, never has lost a home series to the Razorbacks. His only series losses against Arkansas were at Baum-Walker Stadium in 2011 — when the Razorbacks swept three games — and in 2019 when they won two of three.

“We’ve had success against Arkansas, and I can’t explain why, because Arkansas has had great teams through the years,” Mainieri said. “I think they just bring out the best in us, honestly. We have to raise our game against them, because they’ve just been so good.”

Two of Mainieri’s victories over Arkansas came in the 2009 College World Series when the Tigers won the national championship.

“It’s just been great competition, and we’ve eked out some really tough wins and they’ve beaten us in some tough games,” Mainieri said.

“I don’t really have any explanation for why we’ve won [so many series]. Except to say that all the games have been hard fought, and maybe we’ve just had a little bit more fortunate times than they have.”

LSU freshman right fielder Dylan Crews, who is batting .362 and has 10 home runs, said he didn’t know Arkansas’ last series victory at LSU was in 2004.

“We’ve definitely got to keep that going,” he said.

The numbers so far this season indicate this could be the weekend for the Razorbacks to finally win another series at LSU.

Arkansas has won all 10 series it has played that involved at least three games, including against SEC rivals Alabama, No. 5 Mississippi State, Auburn, No. 14 Ole Miss, Texas A&M and No. 15 South Carolina.

The Razorbacks swept a three-game series at Mississippi State, and took two of three at No. 18 Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and South Carolina.

“I think with this team, we have a chance to win a series anywhere we go,” Van Horn said.

The Tigers haven’t been their usual dominant selves at home.

LSU is 19-10 at Alex Box Stadium, including a combined 2-7 record in SEC play. The Tigers have lost SEC series against Mississippi State, No. 2 Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

The Tigers are fifth in the SEC West and have the 11th-best conference record.

“I wouldn’t say they’re having a tough year or a bad year,” Van Horn said. “I just think that maybe some things haven’t gone their way.

“They have a lot of talent. They’ve had an injury on the mound that hurt them earlier in the season. They seem to be playing really well now so it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

LSU lost starting pitcher Jaden Hill — a junior right-hander from Ashdown projected to be a first-round draft pick — to a season-ending elbow injury in early April and started 1-8 in SEC play.

But the Tigers have shown signs of improvement, going 5-4 in their last three SEC series.

They won two of three games at Ole Miss last weekend. LSU was in position for a sweep before losing 10-9 after having a 9-1 lead going into the eighth inning.

“I just think our young kids have matured and become more hardened seeing SEC play,” Mainieri said. “We started off the season with three or four freshmen in the lineup every day, and we had three or four second-year players that didn’t go through an SEC schedule last year.

“Now that we’ve played six weekends, I think our kids are just getting more used to the whole environment of an SEC game. As you get more experience, you become more confident.

“I think we’ve played well for the last few weeks. We just haven’t closed out a couple of games that we had a chance to win.”

Tonight will be the first game LSU has been allowed to be at full capacity at Alex Box Stadium, which seats 10,326.

“Last week at Ole Miss it actually felt like normal life in the SEC at a ballpark where fans were reacting to plays, and there was noise,” Mainieri said of the Rebels’ having full capacity crowds.

“It had been so long since we experienced that. We’re really looking forward to having that feeling back at home.”

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