Hogs 4th in preseason coaches poll

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas baseball team will open the season at No. 4 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll released on Tuesday to give the Razorbacks a consensus top-four ranking in all of the major polls.

Also on Tuesday, Razorback pitchers Hagen Smith and Mason Molina and shortstop Wehiwa Aloy were named preseason All-Americans by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Coach Dave Van Horn will enter his 22nd season at the helm on Feb. 16 in the opener of a four-game set against James Madison at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The Razorbacks, coming off a 43-18 season and an SEC co-championship, had previously been chosen at No. 2 by Perfect Game, No. 3 by D1Baseball.com and Baseball America, and No. 4 by the NCBWA in preseason rankings.

The USA Today poll, selected by a panel of 31 Division I coaches, is the poll of record for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. This year's panel includes Arkansas State's Tommy Raffo, Auburn's Butch Thompson as the lone SEC representative and Oklahoma State's Josh Holliday.

Wake Forest will open as the preseason No. 1 team in the USA Today poll, followed by defending College World Series champion LSU and SEC co-champion Florida, the CWS runner-up.

TCU, which eliminated the Razorbacks last season in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional and advanced to the College World Series, is just behind Arkansas at No. 5, followed by Vanderbilt, Oregon State, Tennessee, Clemson and Texas A&M.

Of the teams in the top 10, Arkansas plays LSU on March 26-29 at Fayetteville; Florida on April 26-28 at Fayetteville; Oregon State on Feb. 23 at Arlington, Texas; and Texas A&M on May 16-18 at College Station, Texas.

The SEC has six teams in the top 10 and eight in the top 25 with Alabama at No. 17 and South Carolina at No. 21 Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia and Kentucky are among others receiving votes, leaving Mississippi State and Missouri as the only SEC schools with no votes in the poll.

Arkansas plays at Alabama on April 12-14, at South Carolina on April 19-21 and at Auburn on March 21-23. The Razorbacks also host No. 22 Texas Tech on April 16-17.

On the NCBWA All-American teams, Smith and Aloy, a transfer from Sacramento State, were second-team selections and Molina, a transfer from Texas Tech, was a third-team pick.

Smith, a junior left-hander, has proven his value as a starter, long reliever and closer in two seasons for the Razorbacks. The 6-3, 225-pounder went 8-2 with a 3.64 ERA in 71 2/3 innings with 11 starts and 2 saves last season.

Smith struck out 109, walked 42 and had a 1.37 WHIP. The native of Bullard, Texas, is projected as a weekend starter along with Molina and junior right-hander Brady Tygart.

Aloy is off to a strong start in spring scrimmages with multiple h o m e r u n s and good fielding. The 6-2, 200-pounder from Wailuki, Hawaii, hit .376 with 14 home runs and 46 RBI and fielded .928 with 17 errors last season at Sacramento State.

Molina, a 6-2, 230-pounder from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., earned second-team All-Big 12 honors at Texas Tech last season with a 6-2 record and 3.67 ERA, with 108 strikeouts and 35 walks and a 1.18 WHIP over 83 1/3 innings.

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