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.
Arkansas beats Central Connecticut in regional opener
Arkansas first baseman Trevor Ezell follows through Friday, May 31, 2019, as he hits a 2-run home run scoring left fielder Christian Franklin during the eighth inning of the Razorbacks' 11-5 win over Central Connecticut at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas’ offense got back on track Friday.
The No. 5 Razorbacks recorded 13 hits and defeated Central Connecticut 11-5 in front of 9,858 at Baum-Walker Stadium in the first game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional.
Arkansas advanced to the winner’s bracket of the regional and will play TCU on Saturday at 6 p.m. The Horned Frogs defeated California 13-2 Friday night.
The Razorbacks (42-17) never trailed the Blue Devils (30-22) of the Northeast Conference. Arkansas scored two runs in the second inning to take the lead for good and answered with at least one run in the bottom of every inning in which Central Connecticut scored.
"That was probably the main thing we did today: when they scored, we scored pretty much every time," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "They score in the fourth, we score in the fourth, and the eighth, same way. We never really let them feel like they were getting back into it."
Arkansas took control of the game with back-to-back three-run innings in the fifth and sixth to go ahead 9-2. TT Bowens homered off Razorbacks reliever Marshall Denton in the top of the eighth to pull the Blue Devils within 9-5, but Arkansas first baseman Trevor Ezell answered with a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to put the Razorbacks ahead 11-5.
Arkansas hit two home runs to bring its season total to 80. Heston Kjerstad’s leadoff home run in the fourth inning put the Razorbacks ahead 3-1 and answered a Blue Devils run in the top of the inning.
The Razorbacks scored three in the fifth on RBI hits by Matt Goodheart, Dominic Fletcher and Kjerstad, and three in the sixth on RBI hits by Christian Franklin and Ezell, and a throwing error by Central Connecticut catcher Sam Loda.
"They had 17 base runners in eight innings," Central Connecticut coach Charlie Hickey said. "That’s gonna put a lot of pressure on you. They broke through when they needed to."
Kjerstad and Ezell each had three hits for the Razorbacks. Kjerstad finished the game a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.
The offensive outburst came after the Razorbacks struggled to score at the SEC Tournament and in their final two games of the regular season. During that stretch, Arkansas went 1-4 and scored just 11 runs.
"Your offense isn’t going to be hot every game of the year; every series it’s going to come and go," Kjerstad said. "But I just saw we stuck with it and kept our approaches and today it paid off and we put up runs like we had been most of the season. It was really nice for all of us."
Connor Noland earned the win with an efficient 5 1/3-inning start. Noland allowed 1 run on 2 hits and threw only 58 pitches.
"His pitch count was real low and we were already in the sixth inning and we felt like if we need to use him again Sunday or Monday if needed, we would definitely be able to bring him back with the number of pitches he threw," Van Horn said. "We just felt like it was time to go with (Kevin) Kopps. It still, the game, was a little too tight for us - go with a little more experience there on the mound."
Noland was taken out of the game in the top of the sixth inning when the Blue Devils reached on consecutive errors by Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin and Ezell, the first baseman. The Razorbacks committed three errors in the inning, but reliever Kevin Kopps limited the damage to just one run that pulled Central Connecticut within 6-2.
Marshall Denton pitched the final three innings for the Razorbacks and allowed three runs, all on Bowens’ home run. Bowens had 5 RBI.
Central Connecticut starter Brandon Fox took the loss after allowing 6 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks in 4 2/3 innings.
Arkansas improved to 24-12 in NCAA Tournament games played in Fayetteville. The Blue Devils fell to 0-11 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
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