Campbell, Cronin combo works in another series-opening win

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, April 19, 2019
Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell throws to a Mississippi State batter during a game Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell throws to a Mississippi State batter during a game Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas' Isaiah Campbell found himself in another pitcher's duel Thursday night.

Six days after suffering his first loss of the season at Vanderbilt, Campbell recorded his seventh win, which tied him for the most in the Southeastern Conference.

What made Thursday's game unique is that it played out similar to Campbell's loss last week. He pitched 7 2/3 innings in both games and held in check what are arguably the two best lineups in the SEC.

The Razorbacks' 5-3 win over Mississippi State is what their 3-2 loss at Vanderbilt could have been last week. The difference: Arkansas' hitters helped out Campbell on Thursday when they had the chance.

After plating just 2 of 11 base runners at Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks scored 5 of 10 against the No. 2 Bulldogs. Casey Martin and Matt Goodheart each had RBI hits in Arkansas' three-run sixth inning, and Dominic Fletcher hit what became the decisive two-run home run in the eighth.

That was enough for Campbell, who was brilliant and allowed two runs on five hits. He worked through a rough first inning when Mississippi State put two runners aboard, then pitched angry after giving up a solo home run to Rowdey Jordan to lead off the fifth inning.

Campbell retired the next nine batters before allowing a leadoff double in the top of the eighth.

"I thought he was outstanding," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "At the end of six innings he kind of made the comment he started feeling a little bit tired. We punched in some runs and it’s almost like he got a second wind out there and we thought, ‘Well, if he can get us through the sixth,’ and he did. He said, 'I think I can go another,' and when he got us through the seventh real quick he said, 'Hey I don’t want to come out yet.'

"No walks, 10 strikeouts; I mean, what more could you want? He limited one of the best hitting teams - if not the best hitting team - in the league to five hits. That’s a great outing."

Arkansas, which tied Mississippi State for second place in the SEC West standings at one game back of Texas A&M, needed Campbell to be great, just like he has been for the better part of eight weeks.

MSU left hander Ethan Small retired the first 12 Razorbacks he faced and looked almost untouchable until the sixth inning. That's when five of Arkansas' first six batters reached base, including four with base hits, and the Razorbacks turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.

"I think he left a couple of fastballs up," Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said of Small, who allowed a season-high three runs and suffered his first loss. "They did a good job adjusting, using the middle of the field. They just had some good at-bats."

Campbell followed with an efficient seventh, retiring MSU's Nos. 4, 5 and 6 hitters in nine pitches. That allowed him the opportunity to come back for the eighth. He threw a season-high 105 pitches.

"Taking the lead, that just gives you the adrenaline to go out there and keep pumping strikes," Campbell said. "That's what I did."

The lead also gave the Razorbacks (28-10, 10-6 SEC) the opportunity to use their closer in a save situation for the first time in three weeks. Matt Cronin took over for Campbell with two outs in the eighth inning and the top of the MSU order coming to the plate.

Cronin hit leadoff batter Jake Mangum with a pitch to put the tying run aboard, then struggled with some mechanics out of the stretch as he walked Jordan Westburg. He struck out Tanner Allen to strand two and keep a 3-2 lead intact.

Cronin allowed a leadoff home run to Elijah MacNamee in the ninth inning, but retired the next three batters to end the game.

"Once MacNamee hit the home run, I think it got his blood pumping a little bit," Van Horn said. "He started locating some fastballs in(side) instead of just throwing it over the plate. He was hitting some spots and he landed a curveball as well. That was good to see....If he starts to land (the curveball) it's going to make a big-time difference."

Cronin said his ability to throw the curveball for a strike might have "messed with their minds a little bit," particularly because he had missed badly with a couple of sliders the inning before. Plus, he has thrown almost all fastballs in his first weekend appearance this season.

"Just looking at the statistics, when I'm fresh, my first 20 fastballs are really good," Cronin said. "After that, they tend to wear down to where I need to start mixing in my off-speed to keep my game going."

Cronin threw 28 pitches Thursday. Some commented that Cronin's velocity was down because he was working 91-93 mph, according to the in-stadium radar gun. But Cronin said he was fine.

"The board is sporadic and we don't really trust that here," Cronin said. "I'll see my TrackMan report tomorrow and see what it was, but I felt good out there. I saw an 85 and thought, 'That can't be right.'"

Cronin recorded his eighth save of the season. Five have been in games started by Campbell.

"When you have Matt Cronin in your bullpen, you feel good about a lead going into the ninth inning," Campbell said.

And the Razorbacks feel good about their chances with Campbell on the mound. He lowered his ERA to 2.44 in 10 starts, and improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 7.8, which is third-best in the SEC and 12th-best nationally.

"His command is better than ever," Van Horn said. "He's walking one or two a game - tonight, none - and he can usually throw three or four pitches for strikes. I just think he's able to work out of jams better than he did in the past, and that's part of the mindset that, 'I'm the guy. I've got to get it done.'

"He's grabbed ahold of it and he's done a great job with that Game 1 starter spot."

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