FAYETTEVILLE -- If they had been following a Hollywood script, the Arkansas Razorbacks would have overcome the hot-hitting Horned Frogs of TCU and advanced their injury ravaged team another step closer to another College World Series appearance last weekend.
But the reality was a lot different for the SEC co-champions. The University of Arkansas did not have the depth of pitching to contend with TCU's powerful lineup and the Razorback bats produced only three hits in a 12-4 loss that ended their season Monday afternoon.
The Horned Frogs outscored the Hogs 32-9 in two meetings at Baum-Walker Stadium and 50-15 in three games this season.
So TCU goes on to host an NCAA Super Regional series against unfortunate No. 14 seed Indiana State, which would have been at home for the series if not for the Indiana Special Olympics being held this weekend in Terre Haute, Ind., leaving the Sycamores short of meeting the NCAA's lodging requirements.
Arkansas enters its offseason after a 43-18 season that will surely be remembered for claiming the SEC co-championship with Florida despite a rash of injuries that lasted from the preseason right through the final weekend.
The Razorbacks won the SEC West and earned the No. 3 national seed despite losing key pitchers Jaxon Wiggins, Koty Frank and Dylan Carter to season-ending injuries, standout Brady Tygart for a huge stretch and six position players for varying amounts of time due to injuries.
Coach Dave Van Horn said he was proud of the whole season the Razorbacks put together.
"Winning the Western Division, beating out LSU and A&M and some of these guys that have all these players this year, I'm just so proud of our players," Van Horn said. "Tying Florida for the overall SEC championship. We've only got three of those in my 21 years. Those trophies are hard to get, so I'm super proud of the guys.
"With what we had in that locker room that's not on the DL [disabled list] all year, I think that we did all we could do, honestly."
TCU Coach Kirk Saarloos, who saw the Hogs on the opening weekend of the season and the last weekend for Arkansas, was complimentary of the work accomplished by Van Horn, his staff and players after the traumatic season of injuries.
"I obviously want to say congratulations to Arkansas on a phenomenal season," Saarloos said. "It's never easy to win a championship, especially the SEC championship. A classy group. I know all those coaches very well. I thought they left everything out there."
Van Horn, when asked how he'd like the 2023 team to be remembered, said he couldn't use the term "over achievers" because the players are talented, but overcoming their obstacles was clearly on his mind.
"This is a team, and I've said it many times, they show up and they think they're going to win," he said. "They showed up and played hard for us all the time.
"I really can't remember having to really talk to the team about what we're seeing isn't a good enough effort, you're not playing hard. Never really saw that from this team. Just find a way to win. They would find a way to win and they were fun to be around, honestly."
Van Horn also noted the talent on the teams all around the Razorbacks in the SEC standings.
"I think what they're going to be remembered for is they won the SEC championship and they won 43 games and they had what, like one guy on the All-SEC team?" Van Horn said. "That's very rare. You win the SEC championship, you look at Florida, what'd they have? Five? A couple second-teamers? I mean, it was something else.
"So it was just a bunch of guys that played as a team and they won a championship. I hope they get celebrated in 10 years and they come back and I bet they're all doing something pretty good."
Ace left-hander Hagen Smith and team captain outfielder Jace Bohrofen spoke at the postgame media conference after the Razorbacks were eliminated.
"Honestly, this is probably my favorite baseball season of my entire life I've ever played," Smith said.
Bohrofen went farther.
"This is by far my favorite baseball season of my entire life," he said. "This group of guys was special, coming from all over the place. You know, you've got guys who really have never won in their college career, and them just coming here and getting to win is super special.
"It's hard not to get emotional about it because I love every one of them. Them showing up and coming to work every day, really trying to work to that one common goal, it was special. I just love them so much."
The Razorbacks fell behind LSU in the SEC West standings midway through conference play when the injuries were mounting, but they persevered and overtook the Tigers.
"Like I told the coaches, they did a great job this year dealing with all the issues we went through," Van Horn said. "I told the players the same thing. You know, great effort, what a good team, they liked each other. It all adds up to some wins.
"It might not be the big wins to get you to Omaha, but it was wins to get you through another conference series and then another conference series when other teams maybe are falling back. We just hung around the top and we never really had that really bad streak."
Bohrofen wound up leading the regulars in hitting (.318) and home runs (16). Jared Wegner (.313, 15 HR, 51 RBI), the transfer from Creighton, was on pace to lead the club in home runs and RBI before being sidelined for five weeks.
The Kansas transfer Tavian Josenberger (.286, 10, 33), who was hitting .322 when he suffered a hamstring strain and missed eight games, wound up being a leadoff hitter with speed and pop.
Sophomore Kendall Diggs (.299, 12, 63) won the team's RBI crown and is set up to be a team leader again in 2024.
Caleb Cali (.308, 9, 37) and Brady Slavens (.277, 9, 42), who both transferred into the program, carried the team in various segments of the season.
The second-base combo of Peyton Stovall (.253, 5, 31) and Peyton Holt (.392, 2, 17) both have eligibility remaining. Ben McLaughlin (.346, 2, 14) tore it up in limited duty when the Hogs' injuries were at their highest, playing through a leg injury of his own.
Transfers John Bolton (.206, 19 RBI) and Parker Rowland (.182, 2, 19) played stellar defense and had clutch run-producing moments as well.
Left-handers Smith (8-2, 3.64 ERA) and Hunter Hollan (8-2, 4.13) were the staff aces, holding down the fort until the return of Tygart (3-1, 3.20). Veteran Will McEntire (8-3, 5.07) contributed as a starter and long reliever and played a key role with all the pitching injuries.
And the Razorbacks got valuable experience for young pitchers like Carter (6-0, 3.65), Gage Wood (2-0, 4.80), Parker Coil (0-1, 6.55), Austin Ledbetter (0-1, 7.09), Ben Bybee (2-1, 7.24) and Christian Foutch (1-0, 8.76).
Arkansas baseball has asserted itself as a national powerhouse over the last decade plus, and with the nation's current No. 1 recruiting class, that standing appears solid.
"I'm really excited to see who comes back and the newcomers," Smith said. "I think it's going to be a really good team. We'll get some more guys in the portal, and we'll find leaders like we did this year and do the same thing, go back at it."
Van Horn also previewed what's coming for Arkansas baseball.
"I'm looking forward to getting this recruiting in," he said. "We have the No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the country. We're going to get smoked in the draft and we know that.
"We're going to make sure that we have it covered. The guys that get through, I hope those freshmen can help us next year. The guys that come back, they've got a lot of experience and we've got to get the right other guys."