Arkansas baseball will have one more opportunity to capture its initial national title in school history. The Diamond Hogs fumbled away their first chance Wednesday night in Game 2 of the College World Series.
With Arkansas ahead by a run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, Cadyn Grenier hit a popup in foul territory down the right-field line. Three Arkansas players converged on the ball, which dropped between them. Matt Cronin then allowed a game-tying single and, three pitches later, a two-run home run as Oregon State forced a decisive Game 3 Thursday night in Omaha, Neb.
Employing a tactic much beleaguered in the modern era, Oregon State coach Pat Casey went to “small ball” in the ninth. When Zak Taylor walked Cronin to start the inning, Casey elected to have his 9-hole hitter, Andy Armstrong, bunt pinch-runner Zach Clayton over to second base. Sacrifice the out and put the runner in scoring position. The move drew immediate criticism.
When All-American Nick Madrigal grounded out to first base, Clayton advanced to third. When Grenier singled through the left side, Taylor came home. His run made it 3-3. Three pitches later, Trevor Larnach, who had been a goat, sent a shot over the wall in right field.
Oregon State 5, Arkansas 3.
Arkansas had pounced on Larnach’s — and others’ — mistakes in the fifth. It looked as if the Beavers had squandered yet another major opportunity after a handful in the loss of Game 1.
The game was tied at 1 in the fifth as Oregon State knocked two straight singles to chase Arkansas starter Kacey Murphy. His relief, Jake Reindl, then walked the first batter he faced. A bunt single followed and the Beavers took the lead. Bases were still loaded with just one out as Reindl left and was replaced by freshman Kole Ramage, who was looking at Oregon State’s 3- and 4-hole hitters.
Instead of capitalizing, Larnach struck out and Adley Rutschman grounded out. The air was let out of the balloon. Arkansas didn’t end up having to go through an inning similar to the one it put on Oregon State the night before.
Arkansas pounced. Freshman All-Americans Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin hit back-to-back, one-out singles in the bottom of the fifth inning. In perfect serendipity, Kjerstad was knocked in by senior Luke Bonfield’s single to follow. Tied the game. Then, after Dominic Fletcher’s force out, another senior, Carson Shaddy, singled in Martin for the go-ahead run.
But for the second straight game, Arkansas was outplayed on the whole. The Razorbacks were outhit for a second straight night. On Wednesday, it was 12 hits for the Beavers and 6 for the Diamond Hogs. Even the pitching was more dynamic on the Oregon State side (11 strikeouts to 7). Unlike Tuesday, Arkansas didn’t catch the breaks.
Now, the two teams will play a winner-take-all game to determine the national champion.
One more. The deciding game will be Thursday at 5:30 p.m. CT.