Takeaways from Diamond Hogs' 1st SEC Tourney title
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Usually an even-keeled presence in Arkansas’ dugout, Dave Van Horn finally let loose a bit after Christian Franklin secured a fly ball for the final out Sunday afternoon.
The veteran coach was in the middle of the Razorbacks’ celebration following their 7-2 win over Tennessee at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium that gave them their first SEC Tournament title in school history.
A couple of players said it was actually the most fired up they had ever seen Van Horn, who also guided Arkansas to the regular-season SEC title and a 46-10 record heading into the NCAA Tournament.
“The team kind of bonded together and said we want to do this for DVH, man,” senior Cullen Smith said. “We want to get this thing done for him. He may not say it, but he secretly wants to win this thing every single year he's here, and we want to do that for him.”
With very little to play for other than pride, the Razorbacks swept through Hoover with four wins in five days - including the last three against ranked opponents.
“For our guys to come out, after we'd already won the regular season championship, and to play like they did here, it's their makeup, man,” Van Horn said. “It's their DNA. These guys show up and they get after it.”
It was the fifth time Arkansas had advanced to the SEC Tournament championship, but it lost its first four appearances. That includes two previous losses during Van Horn’s tenure, with the most recent being a loss to LSU in 2017.
The way he has approached and treated the event in the past led to some speculation among the fan base that he didn’t particularly care about winning it, but he made sure the players didn’t think that heading into Sunday’s championship game.
“I think that they knew that I wanted to win it and I made sure that they knew that,” Van Horn said. “We had a little meeting before the game, I called it with the whole team, and I wanted the team to know that the coaches were 100 percent in to do whatever we needed to do to win this game today.”
As exciting as it was to finish their goal of capturing the tournament title, though, Van Horn said the team still has its sights set on winning a bigger trophy in about a month.
“I really like the way the team reacted today after they won the championship,” Van Horn said. “They were happy and excited, just like the coaches, but they didn't go crazy. They know we still have work to do.”
Battles Named MVP
After yet another big performance at the plate and in the field, Jalen Battles was named the MVP of the SEC Tournament. He went 3 for 4 against the Volunteers and finished the event 7 for 13 while making multiple great defensive plays at shortstop.
“He deserved it,” Van Horn said. “He started a few double plays, he made a couple of diving plays, fielded balls up the middle. He looked like a big leaguer this weekend.”
Two of Battles’ hits Sunday drove in runs, as he got the Razorbacks on the board with an opposite-field RBI single in the fifth and then later added a solo home run to give them an insurance run.
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