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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas catcher Grant Koch runs around the bases after hitting a home during the first inning of a game against Vanderbilt on Sunday, May 14, 2017, in Fayetteville. - Photo by J.T. Wampler

FAYETTEVILLE -- Growing up in Fayetteville, Grant Koch watched Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks pile up winning season after winning season.

In 2016, the freshman Koch finally got to play for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and it turned out to be the only clunker in Van Horn's career.

Never mind that Koch began as a backup and by the end of that season he was the regular catcher and hit .276.

His team floundered to 26-29 overall and 7-23 in the SEC and didn't even qualify for the SEC Tournament.

So to be the 2017 All-SEC catcher on the Arkansas team that put it all back together always will be a source of pride for Koch.

He also was named to the touring Team USA collegiate all-star team that Koch says he reports to "in a week and a half."

"It meant a lot," Koch said Friday of playing for these 45-19 Razorbacks who concluded their season by losing 3-2 Monday night in the Fayetteville Regional. "I think you saw the competitiveness and the drive from the team just to put that season that we had behind us and get this program back on the right track. We kind of labeled ourselves as 'Team Overcome.' "

They had to overcome a lot before the season began after projected weekend starting pitchers Isaiah Campbell and Keaton McKinney were lost for the season with arm injuries.

Slumps and other injuries ensued, but the Hogs pressed on.

"When adversity hit," Koch said, "we kind of said, 'We are not going to take the route we took the past year. It's going to be different.' We liked when adversity hit because we are that team that was going to overcome it. That's why we were as good as we were. Just to get back rolling and back on track and that's why we are so confident for next year."

But 2017 wasn't all roses for Koch, although he never acted otherwise.

Catching 61 of Arkansas' 64 games and serving as the DH in two others took a toll. That .330 batting average on April 1 dipped to .264 at season's end. He hit only two of his 13 home runs after April 28.

Compounding the frustration, Koch whacked numerous line drives right at gloves or got foiled by defensive gems such as when Missouri State center fielder Hunter Steinmetz crashed into the wall but caught his fly ball to snuff out a potential Razorbacks rally Monday night.

Koch never let a struggling bat distract him from his catching duties.

"That's what helped me get through it," Koch said of ignoring his waning batting average. "I know I have to be 100 percent on defense. For me that's the position that I help my team the most is back there catching and calling pitches and controlling a game. That helped me have a short memory."

Even for a team turnaround he'll never forget.

Sports on 06/10/2017

Print Headline: Hometown Hog proud of turnaround

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