FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- When you start reeling off the college baseball hotbeds around the country, some of the locales that immediately come to mind are Baton Rouge, La., Tempe, Ariz., Miami, Fla., Austin, Texas and any number of spots in the state of California.
But the best-kept secret in college baseball, and probably not for much longer, is nestled in the Ozarks.
Dave Van Horn, in his eighth season at Arkansas, has turned the Razorbacks into a powerhouse, and the best may be yet to come.
"Not a whole lot of people know about Arkansas baseball," junior first baseman Andy Wilkins said. "Even when I was getting recruited, I didn't know Arkansas had a baseball team. But I came over here, and it was like a palace. Even schools in Oklahoma don't know how nice this place is.
"It's just a great atmosphere to play in. We have great fans, and we're finally starting to put Arkansas back on the map."
The No. 7-ranked Hogs (33-8) had won 13 straight games before losing the last two of the Florida series this past weekend. The 2-1 loss on Sunday to the Gators included a controversial play at the plate in the ninth inning that went against the Hogs.
As disappointing as it was, Van Horn has chosen to move on. It's part of this program's mantra.
Plus, he and his players know that the most important part of the season lies ahead as Arkansas seeks to make its second consecutive trip to the College World Series.
"We're a no-excuses program," Van Horn said. "If we get beat, we get beat. It's nobody else's fault. It's been a good season so far this year. But I still think there's a lot left."
The Hogs return home Wednesday night to face Missouri State in a nonconference game. They will stay home this weekend to take on Auburn in a key SEC series. Arkansas currently holds a two-game lead over LSU and Ole Miss in the Western Division race.
Playing at home certainly has its advantages.
Baum Stadium is truly one of the Taj Mahals of college baseball venues. With its 34 luxury boxes, plush amenities and 10,737 seating capacity -- including 8,237 chair-back seats -- the stadium rocks for home games.
Arkansas baseball is an event in these parts -- which is why, in 2007, the Hogs became the first team in NCAA history to average more than 8,000 tickets sold per game.
"It would have been hard to envision this back in 2002 when I came here, but it's grown," said Van Horn, who replaced legendary Arkansas coach Norm DeBriyn. "The fans keep coming out, and it's really been fun."
The best part of the whole Arkansas baseball experience, though, has been the product on the field.
There isn't a surplus of stars on this team. In fact, the players will tell you that the team is the star. Clutch hitters can be found up and down the lineup, and the pitching has been solid.
"We've got a couple of guys in our program who're going to be high draft choices, but we also have a lot of guys who know their role and what they need to do to help the team win," said Van Horn, who's combed the state of Texas to help stock the Arkansas roster and has been exceptional at developing players.
"We have to go all over. This is a small population state. There's not a lot of kids to choose from. A lot of times, the kids that are good enough to play here end up signing [pro baseball contracts]. It's been a battle, but I think we've turned the corner talentwise. In the SEC, you can be good one year and think you're going to be good the next, and boy, you get your brains beat in."
The Hogs lost some quality players off last season's College World Series team, but new stars have emerged. Sophomore Zack Cox leads the team with a .436 batting average, while juniors Brett Eibner (13 home runs) and Wilkins (11 home runs) have picked up where they left off last season.
If anything, Arkansas might have gotten to the College World Series a year early last season.
Nobody really expected it, even the guys on the team. But the experience was invaluable and will no doubt help this club down the stretch this season.
"This team understands what it took to get to Omaha last year, and with the addition of a few guys like [designated hitter] Monk Kreder, we've been able to buy into the whole idea that we're going to go back to Omaha and fight for a national championship," Wilkins said.
And once you get there, it doesn't seem so far away. The Hogs have now been twice under Van Horn.
"That's the biggest thing with a program that's never been there," Van Horn said. "To them, it's a million miles away. For us, it's a six-hour drive. We've been there, and I've had the opportunity to go many times. It's about playing well at the end of the season.
"It's a lot closer once you get there. When you don't go for three, four or five years, it gets tough. It seems like it gets farther away."
The Hogs feel like they're just starting to hit their stride offensively. Through 41 games, they're second in the SEC with a .327 batting average and have raised their team batting average 50 points over the last month.
"The offense, defense and pitching are starting to click, and I think we're starting to become a force," Wilkins said.
Try keeping that a secret.