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.
Facing uphill battle, Hogs need another unforgettable day at home
Arkansas players cheer from the dugout, Sunday, June 4, 2023, during the first inning against the Santa Clara Broncos in an elimination game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Some of Arkansas’ greatest baseball moments have come this time of year during days at Baum-Walker Stadium you had to see to believe.
The program’s popularity exploded after the events of June 6, 2004, when Brady Toops hit a two-out grand slam in the ninth inning and Charley Boyce threw every pitch his right arm could muster to give the Razorbacks two must-win victories over Wichita State.
On June 4, 2017, Arkansas withstood two long rain delays and staved off elimination with a pair of victories over Oral Roberts and Missouri State, the latter of which ended at 3:10 a.m. on June 5 after a flurry of late runs in a heavy rainstorm.
Charlie Welch hit a home run that went viral and Kevin Kopps cemented his status as the best player in college baseball on June 7, 2021, when he threw a 7-inning, 90-pitch masterpiece to shut down Nebraska in his third outing in a little more than 72 hours.
Now the Razorbacks find themselves needing to dig out of a hole in an unprecedented way. They must win two games over a red-hot, well-rested TCU team Monday, one day after playing the equivalent of another doubleheader.
If Arkansas beats TCU in Monday’s game that is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., the teams will play a winner-take-all game at 8 p.m. In that scenario, the Razorbacks will start and finish four games in about a 33-hour window.
More from WholeHogSports: How to watch, listen to Arkansas-TCU
"I've been a part of some crazy days,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said late Sunday. “It's going to take a crazy day for us to win two tomorrow."
Mother Nature started this mess and the NCAA’s decision making worsened it on a stormy Saturday afternoon. Though lightning exited Fayetteville around 5 p.m., an elimination game between Arizona and Santa Clara was not allowed to begin for three more hours.
By then there was no chance for Arkansas and TCU to play their game that night. NCAA rules state no regional game can begin after 11 p.m.
The Arkansas-TCU game was postponed to Sunday afternoon and the most crucial game of any regional — the winner’s bracket game — took on added significance. The Horned Frogs met the challenge and hammered the Razorbacks by a score of 20-5.
Teams have won regionals without starting 2-0, but it’s rare. When teams are able to accomplish the feat, they traditionally do so by playing three games in two days.
These types of historical records are not readily available, but it seems unlikely many, if any, teams have advanced playing four games in two days.
No college bullpen is built to withstand that kind of stress. No hill in Fayetteville is that steep.
“It’s not good,” Van Horn said of his pitching situation after top right-handers Brady Tygart and Will McEntire were likely burned for the rest of the regional by throwing 99 and 57 pitches, respectively, for the Razorbacks to beat Santa Clara 6-4. McEntire has thrown 138 pitches in this regional.
“I don’t know who we’re going to pitch,” Van Horn said. “We’ll just have to talk to them in the morning. There’s a couple of guys that maybe threw a little bit today, or one that threw a little today that could start. Then you get into some younger guys that it’d be tough throwing them out there in this situation.”
Among those who could be recycled Monday are left-handers Hagen Smith and Zack Morris, who threw 42 and 25 pitches, respectively, before the TCU game got away. Right-hander Austin Ledbetter took one for the team with a six-inning stint that wrapped around a 59-minute rain delay.
Lefty Hunter Hollan might also be an option Monday, but it seems less likely after he threw for the second time in three days to close the game against Santa Clara.
The onus to perform at a high level will be on pitchers who have pitched well at times, but battled inconsistency, like right-handers Cody Adcock, Gage Wood and Christian Foutch.
"Some of these guys are going to have to get on the mound and give us more than one inning," Van Horn said. "That first game, we'll just do whatever we've got to do to win it. If we survive it, you never know when you get down to one game, anything can happen."
On the other side of the equation is TCU, whose players were able to rest Sunday night while the Razorbacks played a high-stress elimination game.
Their bullpen is sitting well from a usage standpoint, but the Horned Frogs are down a primary starter in right-hander Louis Rodriguez, and they have already thrown their other weekend starters in games against Arizona and Arkansas.
TCU's buffer is arguably college baseball's hottest offense. The Horned Frogs are averaging 11.5 runs per game during their eight-game winning streak.
"There's three facets to the game — offense, defense and pitching," TCU coach Kirk Saarloos said. "If you do two out of those three things in a game, you've got a good chance to win. If you do all three, you're probably going to win. If you only do one or zero, you're going to lose."
The Razorbacks are playing at home where they are 32-5 this season, including 21-4 against NCAA Tournament teams. Arkansas has not lost multiple games to the same team at Baum-Walker Stadium since a series against Vanderbilt last May.
“When you play this game, anything can happen,” Van Horn said. “I think if we knew we had somebody just waiting to pitch, it’d make it a little bit easier. We’re going to have to have somebody really step it up tomorrow and give us some innings, and we’re going to have to score…but I’m glad we’re playing.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.