With apologies to the science of geology, baseball is also about pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really: pressure and time. That and a big dadgum hit.
Arkansas advanced to the second round of the College World Series on Sunday by following the science. The Razorbacks put a slow burn on Texas before the avalanche. Like the patience of erosion, Arkansas took down the Longhorns by waiting them, and a long rain delay, out. An 11-5 win and continued presence in the winners bracket was the reward.
Dave Van Horn’s team will play the winner of Texas Tech and Florida on Tuesday at 6 p.m. CT. Arkansas has beaten both teams this year already. The Red Raiders and Gators were set to go about a half-hour after the conclusion of Arkansas’ game with Texas.
Omaha, Neb., was ostensibly Fayetteville North on Sunday. TD Ameritrade Park was packed with red-clad fans who made the trip up Interstates 49 and 29. Arkansas fans were the largest contingent in Nebraska this day. And for a while, the worries they carried for chunks of the regular season were justified. Their team couldn’t hit. Texas dinked its way to a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the fifth inning despite Arkansas starter Blaine Knight’s best efforts.
The patience would soon pay off. Senior outfielder Luke Bonfield hit a 2-run home run to provide Arkansas a 1-run lead in that fifth. An inning later, with Texas feeling said pressure, the Longhorns’ pitching collapsed. Two straight Diamond Hogs singles and three consecutive walks started the Arkansas half of the sixth, leading to 2 runs before a nearly three-hour rain delay halted things, leaving the bases loaded and nobody out.
Van Horn didn’t let his starter linger even before that mark. Knight threw 81 pitches in his 5 innings, striking out 4 and allowing 5 baserunners (a walk and 4 hits). He was good, though not his All-SEC second-team self. Those 81 were well shy of his usual mark as the Arkansas coach lifted Knight to start the sixth for Barrett Loseke. In theory, Knight could be ready on short rest in a few days, which was a large reason for the relatively early pull.
When play resumed, Casey Martin took the first pitch back to left field for an RBI single. Heston Kjerstad followed with another knock to left, one that plated 2 more runs. Luke Bonfield was hit by a pitch after that and Chase Shugart, whose job was to let Texas escape with minimal damage after the break, was relieved. Three batters. Zero outs.
The change didn’t do much good. Kamron Fields gave up back-to-back RBI singles, resulting in 3 more Arkansas runs before he recorded an out. Before Jared Gates’ flyout, four straight Texas pitchers, including Fields, had thrown without recording a single out — 10 straight Arkansas batters reached base — leading to this line:
In all, Texas threw six pitchers in the sixth as Arkansas scored 8 runs and ensured its place in the second round.
The Razorbacks are in the second round of the College World Series for the first time since 2012. In that season, Arkansas won its first two games, leaving it one win shy of an appearance in the championship. But South Carolina won two straight to send Arkansas back to Fayetteville.
Arkansas beat Texas Tech, a possible opponent, April 24, 5-1, in a midweek game. The Diamond Hogs beat Florida in the opener of a three-game set in late March before falling in the next two. Arkansas then beat Florida again in the SEC Tournament, 8-2.
Things weren’t perfect. Arkansas’ biggest problem all year — the back part of the bullpen — allowed a small Longhorns rally. Although it was too late, Texas scored 2 runs in the eighth, tagging Kole Ramage for both and then getting Cody Scroggins for another in the ninth to create the final score.
Ramage and Bryce Bonnin weren’t great out of the bullpen, but their pitches weren’t wasted. Barrett Loseke was solid until the rain delay messed him around a bit. He wasn’t the same after. Good news for Arkansas is it didn’t have to use Matt Cronin or Jake Reindl.
It’s near impossible to get anything below an A when going 10 straight batters without getting a single one of them out.
The Big Stick + The Arm
Electric starts are fun. Fundamental ones are important. Knight delivered the latter and kept himself available for later in the week.
The freshman finished 3 for 5 with a double, 3 RBI and 2 runs.
A double-elimination tournament among eight teams in Omaha, otherwise known at the College World Series.