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Hogs can rise or fall vs. A&M

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Photographs by Andy Shupe

Arkansas shortstop Jax Biggers reacts after scoring the game-winning run against Vanderbilt during the ninth inning Friday, May 12, 2017, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The No. 16 Arkansas Razorbacks still can win the SEC West heading into their final regular-season series at Texas A&M.

Or they could fall to fifth in the West and drop to the No. 8 seed for the SEC Tournament next week.

ARKANSAS BASEBALL

at TEXAS A&M

WHEN 6:30 p.m., Thursday

WHERE Blue Bell Park, College Station, Texas

RECORDS Arkansas 37-14, 16-10 SEC; Texas A&M 35-17, 15-12 SEC

SERIES Texas A&M leads 40-37

LAST MEETING Texas A&M won 2 of 3 at Baum Stadium, April 30-May 1, 2016

PITCHING MATCHUP Arkansas RHP Trevor Stephan (5-3, 3.21 ERA); Texas A&M LHP Kaylor Chafin (7-1, 1.79 ERA)

RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings.

TV SEC Network Plus

SHORT HOPS

Arkansas SS Jax Biggers was one of two SEC players named as a semifinalist for the Brooks Wallace Award given by the College Baseball Foundation to the nation’s top shortstop. Biggers leads Arkansas with a .325 batting average, and he has committed only four errors. … The Aggies played host to Sam Houston State on Tuesday for their final nonconference regular-season game.

UPCOMING GAMES

TODAY Off

*THURSDAY at Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m.

*FRIDAY at Texas A&M, 6;30 p.m.

*SATURDAY at Texas A&M, 11 a.m.

SUNDAY Off

MONDAY Off

TUESDAY TBD, SEC Tournament

*SEC game

That's how jumbled the top of the conference is with three games remaining. The Razorbacks (37-14, 16-10 SEC) enter the series at College Station, Texas, on Thursday 1½ games behind LSU (18-9 SEC), a half-game behind Mississippi State (17-10) and 1½ games ahead of the Aggies (15-12).

"Well, I'd like to be closer to first, but A&M's right there with us," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "We're just going to go down there and play ... just try to win Thursday."

Because LSU and Mississippi State are playing this weekend in Starkville, Miss., Arkansas is still in play for the SEC West title. The Razorbacks' only route to the title is a sweep of Texas A&M while Mississippi State wins two of three against the Tigers.

The Razorbacks won their first SEC series in a month last weekend, taking two of three games from Vanderbilt, to reach the No. 5 overall spot in the SEC. The top four teams earn a bye from the single-elimination opening round at the SEC Tournament on Tuesday.

"We've just got to win Thursday," University of Arkansas, Fayetteville outfielder Jake Arledge said.

"We just want to play every game one pitch at a time, like I think we did last weekend," said senior pitcher Dominic Taccolini, a native of Sugar Land, Texas, who will have plenty of family members at Texas A&M's Blue Bell Park this weekend. "If we win on Thursday we have better chances of being a top four seed in the SEC Tournament, so everything's kind of up in the air. We've just got to play well and build momentum for the rest of the year."

The Razorbacks, who have bounced back from a 26-29 finish in 2016, have put themselves in the conversation for hosting an NCAA regional for the first time since 2010.

"If we won a couple of games that would really help us," Van Horn said of the possibility for hosting a regional. "If we don't, we'll have to do real well in the tournament.

"It probably depends on where we end up in the standings. If we finish ahead of Mississippi State or a half-game behind them, we beat them three times, so it would probably come down to some other things, like how we do in the tournament or RPI. It's things we really can't control on one end of it. The only thing we control is winning and losing, and then see what happens."

Van Horn said some teams who can't drastically alter their standing for the SEC Tournament could arrange their pitching to save an ace for Tuesday in Hoover, Ala., but the Razorbacks can't do that.

Junior right-hander Trevor Stephan (5-3, 3.21 ERA) is slated to start Thursday's 6:30 p.m. opener, while sophomore right-hander Blaine Knight (6-4, 3.50) will start Friday's 6:30 p.m. game.

Arkansas won its first weekend opener since April 13 on Friday with a late rally from a 3-1 deficit to beat Vanderbilt 4-3 on Luke Bonfield's walk-off single in the ninth inning to score Jax Biggers from second.

"We feel if we win [Thursday] night, we have a good chance to win the series," Biggers said. "You want to sweep every series, but if you win the series, that's I guess more important."

Arkansas has an 18-18 all-time record in College Station, including a 2-1 mark since Texas A&M joined the SEC.

The 2015 Razorbacks, who had opened SEC play with a 1-5 record, lost the opener 13-6 to the No. 1 Aggies in what became a rain-soaked weekend. Arkansas, trailing 8-3 in a game that was suspended on Saturday night, rallied for six runs in the seventh and eighth innings to stun the Aggies 9-8 on Sunday, then took the rubber match 8-2.

"That was a crazy weekend," Taccolini said. "It was like so many rain delays, and we were so up and down, like just sitting around for it seemed longer than we actually played.

"We turned it around on Sunday. We played so well that it just like shook them up, and I feel like it definitely messed them up for the rest of the year, and it gave us momentum to finish the rest of the year strong, which we eventually did."

Texas A&M Coach Rob Childress was Van Horn's pitching coach during his years at Northwestern State and Nebraska, and the two are longtime friends.

"They do a great job recruiting, coaching and motivating their players," Van Horn said. "It seems like every year they're knocking on the door for 40 wins and hosting a regional, and again, we play them, we're friends and we'll be friends as long as we're alive I feel like.

"But when the weekend comes we don't talk to each other a whole lot. I haven't talked to him yet. He hasn't called me, I haven't called him, so we'll probably see him on Thursday."

Sports on 05/17/2017

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