Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
Arkansas ran into college baseball's hottest team
TCU right fielder Austin Davis (right) is congratulated at the plate Monday, June 5, 2023, by shortstop Anthony Silva (5) after hitting a 2-run home run during the sixth inning of the Horned Frogs’ 12-4 win over Arkansas in the championship series of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Prior to Sunday’s 2 p.m. first pitch between Arkansas and TCU, it appeared the Razorbacks were set up nicely to assume the driver’s seat at another regional on their home field.
With No. 1 starter Hagen Smith facing TCU’s No. 3, Sam Stutenborough, Arkansas could not have asked for a better scenario. Smith had shut down great offenses all year. He baffled LSU’s all-star lineup twice, including a week earlier at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
And due to the format in Hoover and a postponement on the second day of the Fayetteville Regional, Smith faced the Horned Frogs on nine days of rest.
It didn’t take long to realize Smith had not faced anything like this TCU group, though. The Horned Frogs put on an offensive clinic over three games at Baum-Walker Stadium with 44 runs and 50 hits.
Tre Richardson contributed 67% of his season home run total and 24% of his RBI since Sunday.
They leave Fayetteville like a freight train bound for a super regional. And if you thought their luck couldn’t get any better, guess again.
Due to Indiana State hosting a Special Olympics event on its campus this week, TCU will return home to host a super regional at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth.
Oral Roberts has more consecutive wins, but no team in college baseball is hotter than TCU. It would be a real surprise at this point if the Horned Frogs do not make the College World Series and, with the way they’re playing, win games once they get to Omaha.
TCU’s run through the Fayetteville Regional felt a lot like Arkansas’ through the Stillwater Regional last year when the Razorbacks scored 44 runs and had 47 hits in four games. The difference was the nationally seeded home team didn’t win a game against the regional champion this time around.
It took a 12-4 loss to the Horned Frogs on Monday to end Arkansas’ season, but the dye had largely been cast after TCU’s 20-5 statement win the day before when Smith was hit in ways not seen before during his stellar two-year career.
If the Horned Frogs could hit a rested Smith that well, what would they do to the pitching that would be available when the teams met in the championship round?
Arkansas fought for several innings Monday, as you knew the team would with its back against the wall. Smith pitched well out of the bullpen for 3 2/3 innings and Jace Bohrofen and Jared Wegner had fifth-inning home runs that put a jolt in the crowd.
But reality set in over the late innings. TCU’s bats were too hot and Arkansas’ end of the bullpen was too thin and shaky. It was a reminder of how much the Razorbacks missed the likes of Jaxon Wiggins, Koty Frank and Dylan Carter — all lost to season-ending injures.
There was another injury reminder as fill-in second baseman Caleb Cali booted a two-out ground ball in the sixth inning, which allowed TCU to add to its lead. Cali played the position for the first time Sunday night due to a back injury to upstart Peyton Holt.
Holt manned the position masterfully for about a month after Peyton Stovall’s shoulder required surgery. His energy was noticeably absent from the lineup over the final two days.
TCU ultimately proved to be a bad matchup for Arkansas. The Horned Frogs outscored the Razorbacks 50-15 in three matchups, including a February game at the College Baseball Showdown.
Over time, this year will be remembered more for Arkansas' SEC championship than a disappointing showing at a home regional. That the Razorbacks navigated the season so well with shifting roster dynamics is a testament to the depth and resilience of a group that included few holdovers from the College World Series team the year before.
Somehow the Razorbacks are able to overhaul their roster each offseason and be expected to make a run to Omaha. It will be the same in 2024.
One of these days Arkansas will be the hottest team at the end of the year and break down that championship wall the way other first-time winners like South Carolina, Florida, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have done since 2010. They are examples of teams that poured comparable resources into their programs and came close many times before a breakthrough.
TCU, a participant in five of the last 12 College World Series, is another example, and this time the Horned Frogs look like a team that could go all the way.
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