Arkansas’ most enigmatic player needed to come through in a big way Friday night at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Not exactly an easy ask.
Isaiah Campbell didn’t record four outs the last time he faced Florida. The No. 1 team in the nation battered him and Arkansas en route to a 17-run day. Less than three weeks ago, Campbell didn’t record a single out against a less-than-spectacular Dallas Baptist team. Then again, he’s the same guy who was once projected as a second-round talent for the MLB draft.
The only question was which player would show up for the Razorbacks in such a huge game. If the Diamond Hogs beat Florida on Friday, they were in the national championship series early next week. If they lost to the Gators, the two would play again Saturday in a win-or-go-home semifinal.
Twenty batters faced. Eight strikeouts. Two walks. Two hits.
Arkansas will play for a national title after Campbell’s outstanding performance combined with a nearly perfect night from Casey Martin at the plate lifted the Razorbacks past Florida 5-2. The victory gives Arkansas its second berth in the final and its first since 1979. The Razorbacks’ opponent is to be determined. Mississippi State and Oregon State will play a winner-take-all game Saturday to gain a spot in the best-of-3 championship series.
Campbell kept the No. 1 overall seed Gators almost entirely at bay. He held a no-hitter into the fifth inning. With two outs, Austin Langworthy sent a ball through the left side for a single. At that point, Florida was trailing 4-0, so it hardly damaged anything except for Campbell’s chance at a no-hitter.
Campbell hit the next batter, putting runners on first and second base. Brady Smith followed with a single to break up the shutout. Campbell threw a pitch to the backstop with the next batter before the big Arkansas right-hander steadied himself, getting Nick Horvath to chase a curveball on the outer half of the plate, leaving two Florida runners stranded.
Arkansas pulled one back in the sixth, though, to provide itself a 3-run lead for the homestretch. Most of that came courtesy of Martin. He finished 4 for 5 and scored 3 of Arkansas’ runs. Luke Bonfield and Dominic Fletcher had 2 RBI apiece; Bonfield knocked in Martin twice and Fletcher scored his third baseman once.
Florida had one real opportunity in the late innings. Jake Reindl, Campbell’s replacement, walked back-to-back batters in the seventh. Florida brought the potential tying run to the plate in Horvath. But he failed again, sending a chopper to Martin, who stepped on the bag.
Not perfect. Who cares.
Heston Kjerstad, Eric Cole and Carson Shaddy did not reach for Arkansas. Considering those three have been the best players for most of the last few months (save Martin), I think Razorbacks faithful will be OK with that if the rest of the lineup is producing.
The Big Stick + The Arm
Perhaps it wasn’t his best performance of the season by the numbers. It was close. Considering the stakes, though, Campbell will recall this one for a long time.
He went 4 for 5 with a double, an RBI and 3 runs.
The national championship series starts Monday. It’s a best-of-3 set against either Mississippi State or Oregon State.