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.
In Omaha, Hogs can't capitalize on best chances
Arkansas' Casey Martin (15) reacts after striking out against Texas Tech in the ninth inning of an NCAA College World Series baseball game in Omaha, Neb., Monday, June 17, 2019. Texas Tech won 5-4. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
OMAHA, Neb. Arkansas is going home from the College World Series following two one-run losses.
But the Razorbacks' short stay wasn't for lack of ideal opportunities.
Arkansas' 5-4 loss to Texas Tech on Monday included an RBI opportunity for the top of the batting order with no outs in the ninth inning.
The Razorbacks' Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, Jacob Nesbit and Christian Franklin, reached base with no outs. Nesbit was hit by a pitch and, after taking strike one while squared to bunt, Franklin singled to right field to bring the top of the Arkansas order to the plate in an RBI situation.
But similar to Saturday when Franklin reached with a leadoff double in the eighth inning of a 1-0 loss to Florida State, the top of the order wasn't able to punch in a run.
Against Florida State, Trevor Ezell grounded out to advance Franklin to third base, and Casey Martin and Matt Goodheart both struck out. The Seminoles scored in the top of the next inning and won.
On Monday, Ezell popped up to the pitcher's mound, Martin struck out and Goodheart flied out to left field.
"This stings," Arkansas hitting coach Nate Thompson said. "We feel like we coulda, woulda, shoulda a lot of things. But this is a hard game and it demands a lot, and as much as you want to be perfect at it, it's not going to happen. Those guys played hard."
With runners on first and second without any outs, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn conferred with Ezell in the batter's box before his at-bat in the ninth inning Monday. Ezell is one of the team's best bunters, but Van Horn told him to bunt if the fielders were playing away from the plate.
The fielders came in, so Ezell swung away against Texas Tech closer Taylor Floyd.
"I just felt like that the key at-bat was going to be Trevor," Van Horn said. "Trevor needed to hopefully advance and maybe drive them in, and he made some really good pitches to Trevor. You know, but it was looking good, but you've got to get them over and in, and we didn't."
Against Martin, Floyd fell behind 2-1. But Martin fouled off a pitch for strike two, then swung through an off-speed pitch away - the pitch that he had trouble laying off of all season as he struck out 79 times.
Martin struck out three times Monday with a number of swings and misses on pitches out of the zone.
"I think maybe I was pressing a little bit too much, kind of in a gotta win situation," Martin said, "and that's on me being an older guy. I should know not to press, and I did."
Ezell said it was difficult for Arkansas' hitters to guess what Floyd was going to throw next because he did such a good job of mixing up his pitches.
"I know in my at-bat, I saw a fastball, curve and a changeup, so he was just able to keep his pitches down, mix them well and we just weren't able to get the guy in," Ezell said.
Goodheart, who had a hard line out and an RBI single earlier in the game, was Arkansas' last hope. He took a couple of balls to get ahead 2-0 before the count evened on a questionable check swing that was called a strike and a pitch that was outside the zone.
"I got two strikes on me and I thought, 'Hey, it doesn't matter what you have to do, just don't go down looking,'" Goodheart said. "I hit it, he caught it."
Arkansas had capitalized in run-scoring opportunities early in the game. Martin had a two-out RBI triple and Goodheart followed with an RBI infield single to put the Razorbacks ahead 3-0 in the third inning.
Texas Tech scored four runs on three home runs to take a 4-3 lead, but Arkansas' Jack Kenley tied the game in the eighth with the best at-bat of the Razorbacks' short stay. Kenley fouled off six pitches - including five straight - during his eight pitch at-bat that resulted in a sacrifice fly to left field to score Dominic Fletcher from third base.
"I had two strikeouts before that and I decided I wasn't going to do it again," Kenley said. "With a big sweeping slider like that (pitcher) has...I knew he was probably going to want to stay in the zone. It was basically just a matter of staying back and thankfully I got enough barrel on it that Dom could score."
But key hits mostly eluded the Razorbacks for the rest of the tournament. In the two losses, Arkansas was 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
The Razorbacks stranded 14 base runners, including eight at second or third base.
"You know, one swing of the bat in either game for how close they were could have changed the outcome," said Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who had a home run and a single Monday. "You know, it didn't happen for us, but we'll get back after it."
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