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Van Horn ready to put hype to bed

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Photographs by Ben Goff

NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF @NWABENGOFF Dave Van Horn, Arkansas baseball head coach, takes questions Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, during Arkansas baseball media day at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

The Arkansas Razorbacks baseball team has received its fair share of national attention during the offseason.

Baseball America has the Razorbacks ranked No. 4 in its preseason Top 25 and featured catcher Grant Koch and pitcher Blaine Knight on the cover of its 2018 college preview issue.

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Coach Dave Van Horn brought up the magazine's praise for his team at Monday's Downtown Tip Off Club luncheon at the Wyndham Riverfront hotel in North Little Rock, but he didn't allow the Razorbacks to get too overwhelmed by it.

"We get it online. They send us 50 copies," Van Horn said. "I put them in the locker room, they looked at them, then I got every single one of them in there. Because that's enough of that. That's for down the road.

"Pat yourself on the back for a day and let's move on."

Arkansas finished 45-19 in 2017, losing to Missouri State in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum Stadium. After Missouri State lost to TCU in the Fort Worth Super Regional, Van Horn needed to replace his hitting coach, Tony Vitello, who was hired as Tennessee's new head coach.

Van Horn turned to Missouri State's Nate Thompson to fill the role, calling Missouri State Coach Keith Guttin.

"I said, 'Hey, great year. I know you guys are hurting,' " Van Horn said. "I said, 'I'm going to hurt you more. I want to talk to your assistant coach.'

"I called him [Thompson]. Nate went up for a visit. I said, 'We're going to be good if you come or not.' It didn't take him long to come our way."

Van Horn calls the Razorbacks' 2018 schedule the toughest since he arrived in Fayetteville in 2003. Arkansas hosts Southern Cal, Texas and Texas Tech in nonconference play.

"Our schedule is built if we can win enough games, we can be a top eight seed [in the NCAA Tournament]," Van Horn said.

In SEC play, Arkansas travels to traditional powers Florida (last year's national champion), Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU while it faces Kentucky and South Carolina at home.

"We call the SEC the man's league," Van Horn said. "If you're not a man, then you don't need to play in this league."

Arkansas opens its season this weekend with a three-game series against Bucknell on Friday at Baum Stadium.

Van Horn said the Razorbacks can be a special team this season, but he wants his team to remain focused.

"It doesn't get you any wins," Van Horn said of his team's national attention. "You have to take care of business."

Other highlights from Van Horn's speech Monday:

• On playing Texas, a former Southwest Conference rival: "Anybody over 45 still thinks Texas is our rival. If we have decent weather (March 13-14), our stadium will be packed."

• On his Christmas vacation to Hawaii, which was a 30-year wedding anniversary gift for his wife Karen. Instead, Karen wanted to bring their daughters Hollan and Mariel with them: "The romantic getaway turned into a family affair."

• On his team's GPA in the 2017 fall semester, which was a 3.13: "That's really good for 35 boys. But we can't hang with the girls academically. They're awfully good."

Sports on 02/13/2018

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