FAYETTEVILLE — They only rounded up one of the usual suspects to the Fayetteville Regional, but the one they rounded up, the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles, will open the regional against the hosting Arkansas Razorbacks on Friday afternoon at Baum Stadium.
Coach Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks are seeded fifth based on their 39-18 record achieved against one of the most brutal schedules in the country that included an 18-12 SEC West co-championship shared with eventual SEC Tournament champion Ole Miss and an 8-2 SEC Tournament victory over No. 1 seeded SEC champion Florida. Arkansas, Summit League champion ORU, 38-18, and the Fayetteville Regional's fourth seed, open the 4-team double-elimination tournament at 2 p.m. Friday.
The Conference USA Tournament champion Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, 43-16, the Dallas Baptist University Patriots, 40-19, and the Missouri Valley Tournament runner-up to Missouri State, are the No 2 and No. 3 seeds. They collide at 7 p.m. Friday with a loser's bracket game set Saturday afternoon and the winner's bracket game Saturday night.
Southern Miss and Dallas Baptist are newcomers to postseason play in Fayetteville.
In the past, the Razorbacks developed a postseason rivalry with two teams. One was Missouri State, last year's Fayetteville Regional winner over Arkansas and the Super Regional loser at Baum when the 2015 Razorbacks advanced to the College World Series. The other was Oklahoma State, who in the past was both a visitor to Fayetteville and hosted the Razorbacks during regionals in Stillwater. They were sent elsewhere when the NCAA's 16 four-team regionals were announced Monday.
The 16 regional winners will be paired in super regionals.
The Fayetteville Regional winner will play its best-of-three super regional against the winner of the Greenville Regional in Greenville, S.C., which includes top-seed host East Carolina opening against North Carolina-Wilmington and No. 2 seeded South Carolina opening against No. 3 seeded Ohio State.
Arkansas as a national seed will host its super regional opponent if it prevails at the Fayetteville Regional which will be decided in Sunday night's championship game or Monday if necessary.
Arkansas and sixth-year Oral Roberts coach Ryan Folmar's Golden Eagles, tangled twice at last year's Fayetteville Regional with the Razorbacks prevailing 3-0 and 4-3 in hard-fought games and met in the 2015 Stillwater Regional with Arkansas winning, 8-6.
The Arkansas and Tulsa-based ORU rivalry maybe doesn't quite match the recent years' heat generated by Arkansas and Missouri State, but it seems more than hot enough to keep the Hogs from looking ahead to the super regional hype. Many believed the super regional was the goal for them to play well into the SEC Tournament as a 2-1 semifinalist beating South Carolina and Florida and losing a 2-1 heartbreaker to LSU.
"I was expecting Missouri State to be in it because they usually put them with us," Arkansas fifth-year senior second baseman Carson Shaddy of Fayetteville said. "But they didn't this year. But ORU is always with us as well. They are a really good team and really well coached. It's going to be tough, but we wouldn't want it any other way."
Of the usual suspects, Van Horn suspected the most that ORU would be a rival again and that since Missouri State "won their league and won their tournament and been here a few times over the last few years," that the Bears would be sent elsewhere.
"I felt like Oral Roberts would be here," Van Horn said. "They're an awfully good team. They're in a regional every year. They seem to play well in the second half of the season as they did again this year."
Missouri State was sent to the Ole Miss-hosted Oxford Regional while Southern Miss came north to Fayetteville.
"They're just one of the top teams in the country," Van Horn said of coach Scott Berry's Southern Miss Golden Eagles. "A dangerous team. I think a lot of people thought they might stay down there and go to Ole Miss, but they'd already played them a couple times this year. They sent them up here, and I'm sure Ole Miss is glad they're not there. But again, we don't even know if we're going to play them. We've got to get past Oral Roberts and they (Southern Miss) have got to beat a good club, too. DBU (Dallas Baptist) has been in a regional about every year the last 10 years."
Van Horn said he's not ready to pick in which order but that junior, second-team, All-SEC, right-hander Blaine Knight 10-0, 2.78 earned run average, or junior, left-hander Kacey Murphy, 7-4, 3.15, would start Arkansas' first two SEC Tournament games.
Knight has started the opener of every SEC regular-season weekend this season but Murphy pitched last Wednesday's SEC Tournament Game One that Arkansas won 13-8 over South Carolina and Knight pitched the second round, 8-2 SEC Tournament victory over Florida.
"Still not sure yet," Van Horn said Monday of the eventual order of Knight and Murphy. "Probably need a day or two to see how Blaine's feeling. Obviously Murphy would be a lot fresher. It'll be one of those two."