State of the Hogs: Campbell a true ace in final home start

By: Clay Henry
Published: Saturday, June 8, 2019
Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell waves to the fans after heading to the dugout in the ninth inning against Ole Miss in Game 1 of the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional on Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell waves to the fans after heading to the dugout in the ninth inning against Ole Miss in Game 1 of the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional on Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

— Isaiah Campbell might be one of the most respectful players on the Arkansas team. The fourth-year junior is full of yes sir, no sir replies.

But he slipped a little when he made a reference to his coach, Dave Van Horn, after Saturday’s game in the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional.

There was no “Coach” in front of Van Horn's last name as Campbell acknowledged the conversation between the two after the eighth inning of the 11-2 victory over Ole Miss.

Campbell wanted to finish the game. Van Horn just wanted his ace to record an out in the ninth so the Baum-Walker Stadium crowd could adore the big Olathe, Kan., product one last time.

Not once, but twice during the postgame press conference, Campbell slipped up and called his coach simply "Van Horn." It was similar to late last season when senior Carson Shaddy called the UA skipper “DVH.” It drew smiles from Van Horn then, and for sure did Saturday.

“He can call me anything he wants,” Van Horn said of Campbell, who pitched a career-high 8 1/3 innings.

There was a time when Van Horn didn’t smile when it was anything but “Coach Van Horn” from his players. Chris Oliver, then barely in the pitching rotation, called him just “Van Horn” in a 2013 interview with Van Horn sitting nearby.

“It’s Coach Van Horn to you,” the coach interjected.

But he said he’s fine with being “one of the guys” as the Hogs roll along in postseason play, perhaps trying to keep things fun in the process.

“They probably call me a lot worse when I’m not around,” Van Horn said.

Yes, but Campbell was on the same dais, one seat over.

Van Horn wanted to make sure everyone knew he didn’t care. He later told a reporter, “I probably call you by your last name when you aren’t around.”

Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco had the most respectful name for a pitcher in his trip to the media room. He was especially impressed when the Arkansas hurler gave up a one-out homer in the first, then struck out the next batter, Tyler Keenan, on four pitches.

“Then, we don’t threaten the rest of the game,” Bianco said. “He’s an ace in this league. He’s got three pitches.”

Actually, Campbell has four. He didn’t show his fastball much against the Rebels, landing his two breakers and change-up for lots of strikes. He hit 95 and 96 mph in the eighth inning.

And, he’s a real ace, as the Ole Miss coach noted.

The Rebels have one sitting in the wings. Doug Nikhazy (8-3, 2.98 ERA) will start for the Rebels on Sunday against Connor Noland (3-4, 3.56). Both are freshmen.

Bianco wants some zeroes from Nikhazy, probably the Ole Miss ace. The Hogs put up four crooked numbers, the baseball term for anything but ones in an inning. Nikhazy has 78 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings.

Nikhazy (5-10, 200 pounds) will have to slow down Trevor Ezell. The fifth-year senior has 11 hits in 19 at-bats in the NCAA Tournament. He was 3-for-5 with a homer and two doubles against the Rebels. Center fielder Ryan Olenek reached over the wall to rob Ezell of another potential homer.

Ezell didn’t want to talk about his hot streak, or that the Razorbacks are one game away from the College World Series.

“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Ezell said. “We have to come out tomorrow and play well.”

Bianco delivered another understatement when he said, “As lopsided as it is, it’s just (one) win.”

It was akin to what Missouri State coach Keith Guttin said four years ago after the Hogs opened a super regional with an 18-4 victory. Guttin said, “It only counts one.” The Hogs lost the next day, 3-1, then punched their Omaha ticket with a 3-2 nail biter.

It was anything but that Saturday after the Hogs scored four in the first. They forced Ole Miss starter Will Ethridge to throw 45 pitches.

“You know as a coach whether it’s your pitcher or their pitcher, if they are out there for 40-something pitches in the first, they probably aren’t going to be around long,” Van Horn said.

It started with Ezell doubling to end an eight-pitch at bat. Ethridge said Ezell did what a lot of UA hitters did Saturday, handle an inside fastball.

It’s something Ezell said the Hogs noticed it’s a pitch that had been the out pitch for the Rebels in some earlier games this year. The Hogs were not handcuffed this time. Ethridge said the Hogs hit all of his pitches this time.

Now, it’s the ultimate test for these Razorbacks, a salty lefty. The Hogs load their lineup with good lefty hitters and hit about 50 points less against southpaws.

They’ll have to figure out Nikhazy if they are to celebrate at the end of Sunday’s 2 p.m. game.

Ole Miss celebrated in the first inning when Grae Kessinger homered into the Hog Pen in the game’s second at-bat.

The dugout emptied and the Rebels danced and provided an exclamation point in their huddle in front of the dugout with a loud whoop.

Arkansas scored the next 11 runs before Campbell gave up another solo homer to lead off the ninth inning. About the closest thing the Razorbacks did to celebrate came when Van Horn pulled Campbell one out into the ninth inning for a standing ovation. Campbell removed his hat to the cheers when he got about halfway to the dugout.

Apparently, that little cheer from the Rebels in the first inning didn’t slip past Van Horn. Afterward the coach said, “They got pretty excited about it.”

It seemed to bring a little more intensity from Campbell, now No. 3 on the school’s single-season victory list with a 12-1 record. If the Hogs can beat the Rebels one more time over the next two days, Campbell might get a chance at catching Blaine Knight (14-0) when the Hogs get to Omaha.

By then, who knows what Campbell will call his coach.

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