Tschepikow making most of final season

 This time last year Ben Tschepikow figured he would bypass a final season of Razorback baseball and get on with his life.

With a University of Arkansas kinesiology degree in hand, the Fayetteville native and former Fayetteville High star was going elsewhere to school to become a physician’s assistant.

Over the summer the left-handed hitting second baseman reflected he had only two healthy UA  years out of four, one so injury-shortened he was granted a  hardship fifth year. Why not come back, take some grad courses and play ball for the fun of it?

Now who knows? Beyond this  four-team NCAA Regional Tournament starting Friday against Washington State in Norman, Okla., and maybe  a Super Regional or even the College World Series that Arkansas is one of 64 teams eligible to attain, Tschepikow may  play professionally.

The back problems that vexed him are now three years and 156 games proven healed. He’s having his best year, hitting .307, a career high 38 RBI and eight home runs, twice as many as his previous career total of one per year from 2005-2008, and stolen a career high and team high 15 bases. And he’s just enhanced his defensive resume. Because injured senior shortstop Scott Lyons missed last week’s SEC Tournament,  Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn moved Tschepikow  from second to short.

Tschepikow became Arkansas’ version of Ozzie Smith. Tschepikow’s long on short defensive wizardry placed him on the All-SEC Tournament team.

Does he think playing short helped his June pro draft or free agent stock? Tschepikow laughed. “I’m not even worried about it,” Tschepikow said,  “Honestly, I don’t even care. That’s the last thing I am thinking  about. I’m just worried about this Regional.”

It will be a nice option if a pro baseball opportunity presents itself, but  apparently that’s not what Ben Tschepikow’s 2009 return is about.

“Personally,” Tschepikow said, “I made a great decision. Nothing beats college baseball and the atmosphere you get to play in. It’s been awesome. It’s been fun. Hopefully I contributed to the team because I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.”

The players say it’s not only fun playing alongside their senior captain but they learn a lot.

“Every time I see Tschep,” freshman third baseman Zack Cox said, “I know he works hard and is a great player.”

Respecting their senior captain, the Razorbacks did not express surprise “Tschep” so excelled at short.

But bluntly honest coach Dave Van Horn acknowledged it’s surprising for any career college second baseman to adapt so well so quickly to short even if it was Tschepikow’s position at Fayetteville High.

“Yeah, I am not going to lie to you,” Van Horn replied when asked he if was surprised. “He played great, didn’t he? It was unbelievable. He played outstanding shortstop. He made a play in the hole, made a couple up the middle. That’s why he made All-Tournament though he only played two games.”

Tschepikow missed the last two of Arkansas’ four SEC Tournament games last week because he dislocated a finger sliding into second tagging up on a ninth-inning sacrifice fly to center.

He stayed in that 2-1 loss to Georgia and made a play the next inning, but couldn’t play the next two days. Swelling ballooned overnight.

As of Monday he hadn’t swung a bat but expresses his return to the lineup Friday against Washington State not as a question but fact.

“I’m fine,” Tschepikow said. ‘I’ll be ready to go by Friday. That’s all that matters. It’s not a big deal.”

Tschepikow hopes his return is at second base because it means Lyons, suffering both a shoulder injury and concussion during the final regular season series against Ole Miss, is healthy at short. But Tschepikow stands ready to play short alongside freshman second baseman Bo Bigham if need be.

“It was a lot of fun playing there,” Tschepikow said. It had been since high school since I got to play there. I am glad I contributed any I could.”

As noted, freshmen infielders like Cox, Texarkana’s Bigham and former Fayetteville Bulldog Tim Carver, Arkansas’ SEC Tourney shortstop after Tschepikow,  are glad he returned to mentor them and help these 34-22 Hogs get to a Regional.

On the other hand, the second-seeded Hogs wouldn’t be in Norman with third-seed Washington State, top-seed host Oklahoma and fourth-seed Wichita State without the rookies, Tschepikow asserts.

“The freshmen they have called upon,” Tschepikow said,  “have done their jobs. Baseball is a team game, but it’s also individuals doing their parts. Hopefully they can keep that going in the postseason.”

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