State of the Hogs: Sweet memories of 2018

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, December 28, 2018
Arkansas pitcher Matt Cronin flashes the downward horns sign after recording the final out during a game against Texas on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas pitcher Matt Cronin flashes the downward horns sign after recording the final out during a game against Texas on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Fayetteville.

The email came a couple of weeks back. There was a call to action to pick top 10 lists to highlight the past year in sports involving anything Razorback related.

Oh, my mind couldn't handle it all. I had just three on my list: the three baseball victories over Texas. Actually, there were dozens of highlights in those three games. It was pure sweetness.

Yes, I'm the guy who is stuck on when Texas sucks; it does my heart good. I'm from a different time, when the Razorbacks had a rivalry game.

The arrogant Longhorns don't like to consider anyone their rival and that just adds fuel to the fire for others, like me. They worked a deal with the Big 12 Conference this past season to have Oklahoma players penalized for the downward Hook 'Em sign before their football championship game. Really?

Don't tell that to Arkansas closer Matt Cronin. He's been there, done that.

Cronin stared into the Texas dugout after closing the 7-5 victory at Baum Stadium on March 14 in what was a two-game sweep by the Razorbacks. And, the sophomore lefty flashed the downward Hook 'Em sign.

Texas players were on the top step of the dugout. They saw it, then quickly turned away. Cronin immediately was on the first page of my favorite Razorbacks.

They didn't want anymore of the Razorbacks then and they especially didn't want them when the NCAA paired the old Southwest Conference foes in their opening round of the College World Series just a little over three months later in Omaha.

Now, here's the ultra deluxe highlight for 2018: the sixth inning in that 11-5 Arkansas victory in Omaha.

It was three hours of doom for the Longhorns. It was better than any Christmas present opened – ever.

I'm not talking about the length of the game. I'm talking about the length of that eight-run sixth inning. Remember, it included a weather delay of two hours, 49 minutes.

I can remember conversations during that break. Bo Mattingly wondered aloud if it might benefit the Longhorns, already down 5-2 with two bases loaded walks. It would give them a chance to regroup.

No, I offered up that Casey Martin, the freshman All-American, would be primed for a big hit when the game resumed. And, I recalled that Martin – a Lonoke kid with plenty of knowledge about the Texas rivalry – hit two homers in the two earlier victories at Baum.

The Longhorns spent the break eating tray after tray of food. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn didn't want his players doing that. He'd prepared for a situation just like it earlier in the season after a loss to Kent State in the second game of a doubleheader. The Hogs had spent the break between games eating trays of food, then lost badly, 10-4, in the second game.

“We knew that Texas had eaten everything brought to their locker room,” Arkansas center fielder Dominic Fletcher said later.

That kind of intel just pumped the Hogs even more as they licked their chops waiting for the game to resume. There was no lull in the action. It just built to a higher level when the Hogs returned to the field to continue that amazing sixth inning.

Martin said afterward in a jubilant Arkansas locker room that he's always been taught to dislike the Longhorns. I call it old school to hate that school in Austin.

“I grew up in Arkansas knowing what Texas means to everyone,” Martin said. “I was taught the downward Hook 'Em sign. I don't mean that with disrespect, just what I was taught. You don't forget it. That's my upbringing.”

I won't forget the first swing after the rain delay. Martin stroked the first pitch, a high slider, for a clean single. He said he'd spent the weather delay taking swings in a hitting cage. Carson Shaddy, who had two hits in the sixth inning, encouraged Martin to “hunt a pitch” early in the count. Van Horn also wanted his freshman to be aggressive.

That was among six hits and eight runs in that sixth inning. When it was done, 14 Razorbacks came to the plate. Texas used six pitchers and four didn't record an out.

Heston Kjerstad followed Martin's hit with a two-run single to make it 8-2. The Hogs put it in cruise control the rest of the way.

Kjerstad was involved in a bit of controversy an inning earlier when the Hogs claimed the lead on Luke Bonfield's two-run homer. Martin reached on a walk, then was erased on Kjerstad's grounder. Kjerstad was involved in a collision at first base, then scored on Bonfield's homer.

A few weeks ago during a visit ahead of a hitting camp put on by Michael Bernal, Bonfield and Shaddy, the Kjerstad collision was revisited.

“That was a fun moment,” Bonfield said. “Heston just knocked down their first baseman and was ready to take on their entire team. It fired us all up.”

It was fun all the way around. Arkansas fans outnumbered Texas fans in Omaha 4-to-1 at the outset of the CWS. By the time the first weekend was over, Arkansas fans were buying Texas tickets all around Omaha. There isn't anything more fun.

I can remember talking to Kevin McReynolds, an Arkansas legend, late in that 13-4 victory at Baum, the first of the three victories over Texas in 2018. McReynolds said, “This is not vintage Texas. None of the Texas teams I remember were this short on pitching.”

No one has ever said something so true. The Hogs piled up 38 hits in the three games. They won them by a combined, 31-14.

I don't have to look hard to find my best memories of 2018. I don't know what 2019 will bring, but I do know that the Razorbacks will travel to Austin for games March 19-20. I'd like to be there.

Those games are sandwiched between league games at home against Missouri and at Alabama, and all are during the Razorbacks’ Spring Break.Texas has perhaps tougher weekends with Texas Tech and TCU on either side of the Arkansas games.

I don't expect there to be anymore Texas trips to Baum Stadium. The way the Hogs destroyed the Longhorns last year probably will impact future schedules. The 2018 trip was the Longhorns’ first to Fayetteville since Arkansas left the SWC in 1991.

I'm thinking the only way Texas is going to play the Hogs out of the state of Texas in the future will be in Omaha.

And, I don't expect Texas to stay down. David Pierce, starting his third year as UT coach, will get the Longhorns rolling again. Believe it or not, Baseball America honored Pierce as its 2018 national coach of the year.

There must have been a lot of good happen for Texas baseball last season. You could have fooled me. I didn't see any of it.

All I can remember is a three-hour inning of pure domination. It's the way I want to remember 2018.

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