Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
With backs against the wall, Razorbacks draw inspiration from last year's loss to Oregon State
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn takes the ball from pitcher Cody Scroggins (57) during a College World Series game against Florida State on Saturday, June 15, 2019, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
OMAHA, Neb. On Saturday, Arkansas had an offensive repeat of its 2018 championship game against Oregon State.
Now the Razorbacks will need to replicate the Beavers' 2018 run if they are to stick around for next week's College World Series championship round.
Oregon State provided the inspiration last season for any team looking to stay alive after an opening-game loss. The Beavers lost their first game to North Carolina, but won four straight games to advance to the championship series, where they defeated Arkansas in two of three games.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn reminded his players of Oregon State's run following the Razorbacks' 1-0 loss to Florida State on Saturday. It will take four straight wins for Arkansas to advance to this year's championship series.
The first do-or-die game for the No. 5 Razorbacks will come Monday at 1 p.m. against No. 8 Texas Tech.
"It’s definitely a more difficult path, but it’s doable because you saw it last year," Arkansas designated hitter Matt Goodheart said. "If anybody’s going to do it, I think this team can."
If the Razorbacks (46-19) are to hang around, they are going to need more starting pitching like they had Saturday against Florida State, when Isaiah Campbell threw seven scoreless innings. Falling into the loser's bracket is a grueling assignment for a pitching staff, although the day in between games makes the loser's bracket of the College World Series more possible to navigate than the loser's bracket of a regional.
For Arkansas, it might seem like a difficult task given the ways its Nos. 2 and 3 starters, Connor Noland and Patrick Wicklander, performed during the Razorbacks' super regional against Ole Miss. Noland threw 20 pitches and recorded three outs in Game 2 of the super regional; Wicklander threw 43 pitches and recorded five outs.
The freshman starters have generally been reliable - both had good starts the week before in the regional - and they will have to be this week to take pressure off an Arkansas bullpen that isn't that deep.
Van Horn has not announced a starter for Monday's game against the Red Raiders (44-19).
If Arkansas can win its next two games, it likely would put the ball back in Campbell's hands for a game Friday against either Michigan or Florida State. Campbell's long outing Saturday brought his postseason totals to 25 strikeouts and 3 runs allowed in 23 1/3 innings.
"I don't think I've pitched my last game," Campbell said following the game. "This team has battled and competed all year. That's what we're going to do. It starts Monday. We've just got to come out against Texas Tech, hit the ball, pitch really well, and just play Arkansas baseball. But I definitely don't think it's my last time pitching as a Razorback."
Arkansas' 1-0 loss to the Seminoles had a similar feel to the 5-0 loss to Oregon State in Game 3 of last year's championship round. Like Kevin Abel last year, Florida State's Drew Parrish shut down the Razorbacks' high-powered offense Saturday night.
Parrish, a sophomore left hander, allowed 5 hits, struck out 9 and retired all 7 Arkansas batters he faced when the Razorbacks had runners in scoring position.
Arkansas had been hitting the cover off the ball coming into the College World Series. The Razorbacks recorded 35 hits and scored 30 runs during the three-game super regional against Ole Miss.
"Parrish was really good," Van Horn said. "He was really good when we got runners on, especially in scoring position, mixing that changeup, fastball, breaking ball. We hit some balls hard early at people, hit a couple balls off the end of the bat that just happened to go right at them, as well, but that's kind of the way the game works."
Like Arkansas, Texas Tech had an off day offensively Saturday against Michigan. Playing without their leadoff hitter, center fielder Gabe Holt, the Red Raiders still had opportunities, but stranded eight base runners.
Two of Texas Tech's runs came on one swing, a home run by Brian Klein in the third inning.
The Razorbacks and Red Raiders both are national seeds in this year's tournament, but one will leave Omaha without a victory. They were defeated Saturday by hot teams that are playing with house money.
Florida State and Michigan were two of the final four teams that made it into this year's NCAA Tournament, but one of those teams will be one victory away from playing for a national championship after Monday night. Both teams have three victories over top-eight national seeds this postseason.
But Florida State coach Mike Martin cautioned Saturday night that the winner of the bracket could come from the loser's side.
"I can't sit here and say we're in the driver's seat," Martin said. "This field is strong. This field is really impressive, so this tournament is a long way from being in anybody's hands."
It's a really long way from being in Arkansas' hands. The Razorbacks need their greatest stretch of baseball of 2019 to keep their season alive.
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