FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn’s team got an early taste of success in winning seven straight games to open the 2014 season.
A young pitching staff did its job on the mound. The offense showed improvement from 2013, collecting plenty of timely hits to pave the way to wins.
It hasn’t lasted. Arkansas has lost five of its last six games and now heads into the Southeastern Conference schedule with plenty of questions. But Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Wednesday he’s not pressing the panic button.
"We’re going to recover," Van Horn said. "It’s not like we’re playing bad. We just didn’t win. We have got to do more. We’ve got to drive in runs."
Ready or not, the Razorbacks (8-5) move into the 30-game conference schedule when they open a three-game series at Florida (11-6) tonight. Arkansas will be back on the field after going 1-3 during the Cal Baseball Classic last week, losing each game to San Francisco and California by one run.
The close calls leave Van Horn confident his team isn’t far off. In fact, he said there’s not much difference between Arkansas and Florida heading into the SEC opener.
He’s right. Florida won three extra-inning games by one run last weekend.
"They’ve played a lot of close games, we’ve played a lot of close games," Van Horn said. "The difference is they’ve been winning theirs. … We’ve got to make a play.
"We’ve got to drive in some runs and find a way to win those games."
Arkansas had plenty of opportunities in its first road trip, but could only manage nine runs in four games. The most frustrating came in the doubleheader sweep by Cal on Sunday. The Razorbacks produced four runs on 15 hits.
So Arkansas carries a .266 batting average to Florida, which ranks 12th in the conference. Van Horn is expecting close games once again against the Gators, who are last in the SEC in batting average (.257). But he said the pitching needs help this time if Arkansas wants a series win in Gainesville, Fla.
He still believes Arkansas has more offensive potential than the 2013 team, which struggled to help its veteran pitching staff. But Van Horn said the Razorbacks have to start producing because SEC play has arrived.
"What’s the key? The key will be to start our rallies a little earlier in the inning and if that’s not the case we need to get big two-out hits," Van Horn said. "Because that’s what we got the first few games. We were scoring a lot of runs with two outs.
"It’s funny how it works. It can be kind of contagious or it can go south on you pretty quick. You have to have confidence. You have to break through. We’ve got to score runs with two outs. I think that’s going to be huge for this series."