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Five keys to beating Virginia
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn watches from the dugout during a SEC Tournament game against LSU on Saturday, May 24, 2014 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. A win against Virginia, the host school and No. 3 national seed, Saturday night would put Arkansas in the driver’s seat to win the Charlottesville Regional.
A loss, however, would mean the Razorbacks have to win three straight games to advance to the Super Regionals.
Since 1999, when the NCAA went to the current 16-regional format, 27 teams have won three games in a row after losing the 1-0 game to win the regional. Only eight of those teams were a two-seed or lower and two of them, LSU in 1999 and Cal State-Fullerton in 2004, did it as a two-seed host.
That means only six road teams have won three straight elimination games after losing the first winner’s bracket game.
1 - Small-ball
Virginia made a living off of bunts and errors in its 10-1 win over Bucknell Friday afternoon. The Cavaliers had four sacrifice bunts and scored nine unearned runs on four errors by the Bison.
Bucknell had trouble fielding the bunts. After laying down sacrifice bunts in his first two at bats, Nate Irving laid down a third, but the Bison pitcher threw it away and two runs scoring. The error led to Virginia’s seven-run sixth inning that opened up the game.
If Arkansas expects to keep the game close, it must play small-ball and field bunts well.
2 - Hit and score
It seems basic, but Arkansas’ offense is notorious for not scoring many runs, especially with Trey Killian on the mound. In the right-hander’s 13 starts, the Razorbacks have scored an average of 2.8 runs per game.
Hits will be hard to come by Saturday with Virginia ace Nathan Kirby on the mound. The left-hander is 8-1 with a 1.48 ERA this season, earning ACC Co-Pitcher of the Year. He also struck out 18 batters and tossed a no-hitter against Pittsburgh earlier this season.
In Friday night’s game, Arkansas managed three runs on seven hits. It will take at least that many runs to beat No. 3 national seed Virginia.
3 - Quick outs
Arkansas allowed the first batter of the inning to reach base four times Friday night and the leadoff batters scored both of Liberty’s runs.
In Virginia’s big win over Bucknell, the Cavaliers’ leadoff man reached base each of the first seven innings and all 10 runs they scored came after a leadoff hit or walk.
When the leadoff man got on, Virginia liked to use sacrifice bunts to move him over. The Cavaliers’ first batter of the first, second and third innings actually scored the first three runs of the game and were aided by three sacrifice bunts and three errors.
4 - Quick innings
On a similar note, the Razorbacks must get more 1-2-3 innings against Virginia.
Friday-night starter Chris Oliver struggled with his command and threw 109 pitches, lasting only five innings. Luckily for Arkansas, Michael Gunn gave the Razorbacks three strong innings on the mound and Jacob Stone closed it out.
Killian needs to go deep in the game and save Arkansas’ bullpen for Sunday. With Jalen Beeks likely available only out of the bullpen, freshman Zach Jackson will likely make his second career start.
His longest outing is 3 2/3 innings of relief against Tulane in March, so it will be all-hands-on-deck Sunday.
5 - Hit with runners on base
The Razorbacks stranded seven runners on base Friday night against Liberty, five of which were in scoring position.
Arkansas had several chances to add insurance runs in the final three innings, but couldn’t plate any, going 0-for-4 with runners on second or third base. Failing to add those runs kept the Flames within one.
The win improved Arkansas’ record in one-run games to 11-11. The Razorbacks have been mediocre in close games, especially with Killian on the mound. Five of Killian’s eight losses have been by one run.
Virginia, on the other hand, has been very good in tight games, going 14-6 in games decided by only one run. The 14 wins are third most in the country, behind Florida (16) and East Carolina (15).