State of the Hogs: Campbell adds to 'best of' pitching video

By: Clay Henry
Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell throws a pitch against South Carolina in the first inning of an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional baseball game in Fayetteville, Ark., Monday, June 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell throws a pitch against South Carolina in the first inning of an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional baseball game in Fayetteville, Ark., Monday, June 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

— Arkansas pitching coach Wes Johnson asked for some help from the team's video man Monday morning. He wanted a “best of” tape of Isaiah Campbell.

“We brought Isaiah in and it was a video of every one of his strikeouts on the season,” Johnson said. “I wanted him to watch it and then go out and dominate.”

That's what Campbell did. The 6-4 sophomore right-hander gave the Hogs four great innings as they whipped South Carolina 14-4 to win the Fayetteville Super Regional at Baum Stadium.

Johnson wasn't concerned after the pre-game visit in the locker room.

“I knew he was ready to go,” Johnson said. “We just told him to go out there with a closer's mentality, just give us everything from the start.”

There was also a little help from Campbell's friends. The UA hitters put up a five-run first, then made it a 7-0 lead after two innings.

The other weekend starters, buddies Blaine Knight and Kacey Murphy, also helped. They escorted Campbell to the bullpen with a reminder that he's got the “best stuff” on the pitching staff.

“I called Blaine and Kacey and asked them for some confidence-booster type talk,” Johnson said. “They are his brothers. I knew that was 100 percent what we needed, just a little talk to scoop him up.”

Campbell said that's really the routine for the season.

“Those guys are my best friends,” Campbell said. “We all go to the bullpen together before every start. We are there for each other. So I knew that's what they were going to do.”

Knight said Johnson did make sure that they kept the routine going, but it wasn't needed.

“We are there for each other,” Knight said. “We go to the bullpen and talk to each other. He told Isaiah the truth, that he's got the best stuff of our entire staff. You look at each pitch one by one and he's easily got the best. All four of his pitches are the best on our staff.

“So we just told him to go execute his stuff. I just told him to have fun and execute.”

Murphy said as much.

“What I told him was to trust what he's got,” Murphy said. “He's got it all. And, what I saw tonight was complete confidence. He did a great job.”

Campbell allowed four hits and two runs, both on a fluke play in the fourth when the home plate umpire appeared to blow a call on a ball that appeared to hit the batter. There were five strikeouts.

“What I saw was that he had command of all four of his pitches: fast ball, cutter, slider and change,” Johnson said. “He could throw all four for strikes.”

Campbell wasn't so sure of that.

“I pretty much stayed with the fast ball and the cutter,” he said. “I was able to throw those two for strikes and didn't do much else.

“I felt confident going out there. Coach showed me the video. It was all my strikeouts. It was just to get my confidence up.

“And, I went back to the locker room and it was loose and fun. I was having fun in the bullpen, laughing and just relaxing. I went out there and was confident.”

Head coach Dave Van Horn said the locker room was incredibly loose before the biggest home game of the year.

“I made the comment to our staff when we went through there that it was loose, but quiet,” Van Horn said. “I knew they were locked in.”

It was Campbell on the mound first because the Hogs were the home team. Van Horn said there was one brief down moment at the start.

“His first two pitches were balls,” Van Horn said. “You could hear some moans, like here we go. But he got through that first inning and then was locked in for the second.”

Van Horn said the ball was coming out of Campbell's hand hot.

“It just looks effortless,” Van Horn said. “It just shoots out of his hand. You don't think it's that hard and you look and it's 94.

“We told him to go out with a closer's mentality, and whether it's one, two or three innings, don't hold anything back.

“He listened to us. He's been through some stuff and he's thick skinned and stayed positive. He's mature enough to handle some things.”

Campbell said it's about having a “short term memory. There's been some adversity. You learn from it.”

Was there pressure?

“I didn't feel pressure,” he said. “But I didn't want to have our season end at Baum Stadium. I wanted to do it for my 35 closest friends (on the team). I did think we were loose. We didn't do anything to add pressure.

“I think what you try to do is stay loose and have fun. You don't want to make it too big. Just have fun.”

Van Horn said there was some of that in his speech after the loss to South Carolina on Sunday night.

“I told them pressure was when you have two kids, a mortgage and a car payment, you lose your job and you have to go home and tell your wife," Van Horn said. "This is not pressure.”

That's easy to say, but sometimes hard to understand. The Hogs had the pressure of high expectations from the start of the school year. This was a team picked to make it to Omaha by most and to win the national title by some.

“It's been a grind,” Van Horn said. “There were a lot of expectations, some the (players) probably feel and some the coaching staff feels.

“But I will say that they took all the drama out of tonight (with the early lead) and I appreciated that.

“I told them that I've been there before and that Omaha is incredible.”

It's going to be great fun for the veterans like Campbell, Knight and Murphy. They were on the 2016 team that lost the final 13 games of the season, the only time a Van Horn team hasn't advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 19 seasons.

“That's what makes this trip special,” Murphy said. “We went 7-23 in the SEC two years ago. It's not talked about, but it's there in the back of our minds for those who were here. We went through a lot.”

Murphy brought it up. Van Horn would later dead pan, “So you want to talk about that?”

It is his only losing season.

“That was a beauty,” Van Horn said. “Cody Scroggins, one of our pitchers now, started at third base against LSU. We got smoked by the draft ahead of that season. We were playing Clark Eagan, an outfielder, in the infield. Sometimes you have to go through those sort of things.

“It was hard. I remember blowing an 8-1 lead (against LSU). You tell them, 'We are going to overcome it one day.'”

That day was Monday. It started with great stuff from Isaiah Campbell, something more for his “best of” video.

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