Déjà vu in Omaha, Neb.
Arkansas and Texas Tech were at it Wednesday afternoon for the second time in a midweek this season. The last time the two played, in Fayetteville, Arkansas handled the Red Raiders with relative ease, scoring early and letting the pitching handle the rest.
You do know what déjà vu means, right?
Arkansas is now one win away from the College World Series championship set. The Razorbacks sent Texas Tech to another loss, this one 7-4, and into the losers bracket. At the same time, the Diamond Hogs sit pretty atop the winners bracket, waiting until Friday on the winner of Florida-Texas Tech. Those two play Thursday night in a win-or-go-home game. Arkansas would then get two opportunities to advance to the title series.
Back in that April game against the Red Raiders, Arkansas plated all five of its runs in a 5-1 win in the first two innings. The Razorbacks weren’t quite that early Wednesday, but three in the first two provided a quick and intimidating 3-0 lead. Dominic Fletcher’s 2-run double scored two in the first and Jared Gates followed with a solo home run in the second.
Kacey Murphy, in the bottom half of the inning, kept Tech almost totally off the bases until a small mistake in the fifth. Murphy allowed just a single Texas Tech hit and a lone walk until that frame as the Red Raiders stayed scoreless. And by then Arkansas had added two more runs via a Fletcher solo shot and a Jax Biggers RBI single.
Texas Tech did manage to chase Murphy 80 pitches into his outing, though. The Arkansas left-hander struck out the first batter of the fifth, but the pitch went awry, allowing Michael Davis to reach base. Cody Farhat followed with a walk. Murphy looked to be out of it after getting a flyball out and a strikeout, but Brian Klein’s double scored two runners and Dave Van Horn went to get his starter.
The Arkansas coach was able to keep his best reliever Matt Cronin until the final four outs. And Jake Reindl, his next best reliever, still hasn’t thrown at the College World Series. Instead of going to them when Murphy was finished, Van Horn returned to Barrett Loseke. Loseke pitched both sides of the rain-delayed win over Texas on Sunday. He was the third-best bullpen arm this season for Van Horn, and did his work Wednesday, too, inducing a groundout to end the inning. Cronin came on to record the final out of the eighth and the three in the ninth, although he did give up a couple of runs and put a scare into the Razorbacks’ faithful before closing it out.
So, Van Horn has his two best relievers and third starter Isaiah Campbell ready for Friday. By pulling Murphy after 80 pitches — and he did the same with Blaine Knight on Sunday — Knight could be ready for a game Saturday, too, if the Diamond Hogs failed to advance Friday. Murphy might be on an emergency trial.
That isn’t to say every move Van Horn has made has been golden. He inexplicably pinch-hit Hunter Wilson (.289/.373/.400 this season) for Luke Bonfield (.306/.443/.503) with two runners on and nobody out in the eighth inning. It wasn’t for defensive purposes, either, considering Bonfield served as the designated hitter. Wilson subsequently struck out after trying to lay down a bunt.
Didn’t matter. Fletcher, who was 4 for 4 on the day and a triple shy of the cycle, singled home Casey Martin to follow Wilson. Carson Shaddy, the All-SEC second baseman, hit an RBI single immediately after, plating Heston Kjerstad.
Texas Tech simply couldn’t get anything going until Cronin entered. The first three batters of the ninth reached off him. Ultimately it wasn’t enough, though, as the Red Raiders managed just 6 hits.
Fletcher did most of the heavy lifting and strikeouts were high (10) while walks were low (2). But don’t say Arkansas batters can’t actually, you know, hit a baseball. The team finished with 12 hits.
The Big Stick + The Arm
Arkansas doesn’t win without Murphy’s start, but Loseke was brilliant in relief. He didn’t walk a batter — which is a rarity — and he struck out five of the first seven outs he recorded while allowing just a single hit in that span.
The most unheralded of Arkansas’ three outfielders, Fletcher went 4 for 4 with 4 RBI, a double and a homer
Arkansas will get either Florida or Texas Tech on Friday. If the Diamond Hogs win that, it’s off to the best-of-three championship series next week.