By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas freshman Barrett Astin said last week the Southeastern Conference Western Division title wouldn’t be decided until the Razorbacks played Ole Miss in the regular season series finale at Baum Stadium.
He was right. But something else is on the line for the six teams in the SEC West when the conference wraps up its regular season: four spots in the eight-team SEC Tournament field.
Arkansas (33-17, 13-14 in SEC) begins the final week of the regular season with its last nonconference game against Tennessee-Martin in Baum Stadium tonight at 6:35. Then the Razorbacks play a three-game series against Ole Miss (28-23, 12-15 in SEC) beginning Thursday night.
It will cap what has been a wild year in the SEC West. Arkansas is one of four teams (joining Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State) tied for the division lead with three games remaining. But fifth-place Ole Miss and sixth-place LSU (11-16) aren’t out of the picture with scenarios that, remarkably, could see them on top of the standings at week’s end.
Alabama would be the division winner if the season ended today because of the SEC’s tiebreakers followed by Mississippi State, Auburn and Arkansas. The Razorbacks hold the eighth and final spot in the SEC Tournament field, according to current records.
But the possibilities remain endless for the Razorbacks because of the tangled standings. In simplest terms, Arkansas can grab its first SEC Western Division championship since 2007 and the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament with a strong series against the Rebels. On the flip side, the Razorbacks could miss the SEC Tournament field for the first time since 2008 altogether with a disastrous week at home.
But the same goes for every team in the jumbled division as the regular season ends.
"Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to baseball," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said about the SEC West race last week before the South Carolina series. "I think we’re all about the same. ... Everybody is even in the West."
Arkansas remained No. 23 in this week’s Baseball America poll after its series loss at South Carolina. The Razorbacks are one of four SEC teams ranked, joining South Carolina (No. 3), Florida (No. 6) and Vanderbilt (No. 7).
Arkansas did drop one spot to No. 18 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll. Other SEC teams ranked include South Carolina (No. 2), Vanderbilt (No. 3) and Florida (No. 4).
Arkansas freshman Dominic Ficociello continued a strong season at the plate against South Carolina. The first baseman went 8-for-14 (.571) with three RBIs and two runs scored during the three-game series. He recorded at least two hits in each game, extending his late-season hit streak to 11 games.
Ficociello also is closing in on a pair of Arkansas freshman records, needing 11 hits and 10 RBIs to break school marks. Former Razorback Jeff King set Arkansas freshman records in both hits (75) and RBIs (55) in 1984.