With a pair of All-America pitchers on the mound Tuesday night for the opening game of the national championship, the world would have been shocked with an offensive outburst.
More likely, the winning team in Game 1 of the College World Series final would probably be the team that took advantage of a small window of opportunity. All pitchers allow chances. Some more than others. When it’s Oregon State’s Luke Heimlich and Arkansas’ Blaine Knight going head-to-head for their respective teams to open the best-of-three national title series, it was almost guaranteed opportunities were going to be few and far between.
Baseball is such a simple game, really.
Arkansas did exactly what the formula required Tuesday night. The Razorbacks chased Heimlich, who had been lights out, in the fifth inning. Knight held his own in the meantime, working 6 innings and the Diamond Hogs took the first game, 4-1.
The two teams play Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Game 2. If Arkansas wins that one, the Razorbacks will collect their first baseball national title in school history. If Oregon State wins, the teams will play a winner-take-all Game 3 on Thursday night in Omaha, Neb.
Arkansas’ fifth felt like a long time coming. Heimlich had totally dominated to that point. A walk and a single were all he’d allowed. But Carson Shaddy walked and Jared Gates followed him with a single with one out in the fifth. The buzz had begun. When Grant Koch followed Gates with another one-bagger, Arkansas had tied the game at one apiece. Didn’t feel like a major inning, but Heimlich had fallen apart.
Oregon State’s left-hander hit Jax Biggers with the next pitch, loading the bases. Then, two pitches later, he plunked Arkansas leadoff man Eric Cole. Gates trotted home from third base and Arkansas had a lead. On the very next pitch, Casey Martin hit a grounder, tailor-made for a double play, to second.
Booted. Everyone was safe and Koch scored. Heimlich was done. Arkansas wasn’t. Heston Kjerstad coaxed a walk off Heimlich’s relief and Arkansas had plated its four. More than enough the way Knight was going.
In what was almost assuredly his final game in a Razorbacks uniform, the Bryant, Ark., native gave up just 1 run, striking out 6 and walking a solo batter in his 6 innings. Baltimore’s third-round pick in the MLB draft earlier this month has not made a decision about his future, but odds are, especially if Arkansas goes out of 2018 on top, he will turn pro.
What a way to go out.
Still, Arkansas has to win one more before any real celebration. Game 2 on Wednesday is a 6 p.m. (CT) start. If a third game is required, it would begin at 5:30 p.m. local time.
Some jams were worked out of, but holding Oregon State’s lineup to just one run is something magical.
More Oregon State’s mistakes than Arkansas’ quality. Probably won’t be that lucky again. Arkansas managed just 5 hits. They struck out 16 times. The 7 walks drawn were huge, though.
The Big Stick + The Arm
Asked on Twitter: Is there a better in-state pitching product in modern-day Arkansas history than Knight? It isn’t Cliff Lee (he pitched one season and started just nine games). Maybe Drew Smyly? Probably not. Knight will go down as a legend — one who was undefeated in his junior season, too.
His junior season didn’t go as planned. He has a .243 batting average and was slugging just .374 entering Tuesday night. Considering he was preseason All-SEC, those are bad numbers. But a 2-for-3 night (with a walk and a run), including the first RBI to start Arkansas’ 4-run fifth, and all that disappears from memory.
Wednesday night. Thursday, too, if necessary.