Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Charlottesville Regional Report:
Oliver off his game in opener
Arkansas' Chris Oliver delivers a pitch in the first inning during an NCAA college baseball tournament regional game against Liberty in Charlottesville, Va., Friday, May 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Chris Oliver had perhaps his wildest outing of the season against Liberty on Friday, but the tall right-hander kept Arkansas in the game and left with a victory.
Oliver struggled to locate his fastball and paid for it with a big pitch count through five innings as he walked 6 Liberty batters, gave up 4 hits and hit 2 batters.
The Flames managed two runs against Oliver on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch and a sacrifice fly, but went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base against him.
The 6-4 right-hander from Farmington threw 109 pitches while allowing 12 base runners, but he struck out 4 and coaxed a key double play to stay out of major trouble.
Michael Gunn tied a career high by pitching three innings, and Jacob Stone worked the ninth for his fourth save.
Arkansas and Virginia, who play at 7 tonight, will be hard-pressed to match the drama from their only other meeting.
The Razorbacks won that game 4-3 in 12 innings at the 2009 College World Series after Brett Eibner's two-run home run tied the game in the ninth.
"That video ... it gives you chills," Arkansas pitcher Chris Oliver said. "To be part of something like that, I bet that was insane."
Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson said the Razorbacks have probably seen video of that game a couple of dozen times.
"It's definitely a special moment, and I bet Coach Van Horn remembers it really well," Anderson said. "Hopefully we can bring some of that momentum and maybe make some more magic."
Joe Serrano's running catch in foul ground to end the top of the first inning turned into an adventure.
Andrew Yacyk hit a half-swing pop-up that was twisting in foul ground. Serrano sprinted in, reached the warning track near the tarp, and at the last moment stuck his glove out.
The ball went in his glove, popped up and bounced off his bare hand and then settled in his glove to finish off the play.
One of Arkansas' team captains was back in the lineup for Friday's regional opener as catcher Jake Wise started for the first time since injuring a bone on the top of his right hand May 17 in the third game of a sweep at Missouri.
Wise went 0 for 3 at the plate but prevented Liberty from getting a running game going and called virtually the entire game.
"I think what he does is bring a lot of confidence to our pitchers," Coach Dave Van Horn said.
Left-handed pitcher Jalen Beeks, who is a captain along with Wise and sophomore outfielder Tyler Spoon, is still recovering from a sprained left elbow he suffered at Ole Miss on May 3.
Blake Baxendale, the freshman designated hitter who had a hot streak in the middle of the season, made the trip but his hamstring is still an issue, Van Horn said.
Former Arkansas player Scott Heather led Bucknell to an NCAA regional in his second year on the job.
Heather lettered two years as a pitcher in 1997 and 1998 for Norm DeBriyn and served as a student assistant in 1999, when the Razorbacks won their first SEC regular-season championship.
Heather married the former Emily Gross, who grew up in Fort Smith.
"It would be neat for me," Heather said of the possibility of playing Arkansas in the regional. "Probably my family would be pretty excited about that. I'm pulling for them in this one [Friday night] and hope they come out on top."
Heather left Arkansas to take a job at Arkansas-Fort Smith in 2000, and after five years he landed an assistant coaching job at Bucknell.
See you soon
Virginia ace Nathan Kirby (8-1, 1.48 ERA) has accepted an invitation to pitch on the USA Collegiate National team coached by Arkansas' Dave Van Horn this summer.
Kirby, a 6-2 left-hander who was the Atlantic Coast Conference co-pitcher of the year, will start for the Cavaliers today against Arkansas.
Van Horn said he's seen a small amount of video on Kirby.
"I turned it off pretty quick," he said. "He's pretty good."
Virginia Coach Brian O'Connor joked about his Cavaliers trying to set a record for sacrifice bunts, but he advised reporters not to say "small ball" to describe his team's approach.
"We're an opportunistic offense," said O'Connor, whose team had four sacrifice bunts, tried one more and laid down other bunts. "The game dictates what we do."
Making the list
Virginia pitcher Artie Lewicki, asked what Coach Brian O'Connor said to him during a first inning visit to the mound, gave an honest answer.
Lewicki walked Brett Smith to open the game and watched his pitch count mount as he nibbled around the edges of the strike zone.
"He came out and said, 'You're not going to be on my Christmas card list if you don't start attacking,' " Lewicki said.
Sports on 05/31/2014