Arkansas baseball and Oregon State set to meet for 1st time since 2018 CWS

Arkansas players walk off the field after losing to Oregon State in Game 2 of the NCAA College World Series baseball finals in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

FAYETTEVILLE — The event occurred 2,433 days ago and 661 miles away, but Arkansas baseball fans who know could be transported back to that moment in time when they watch the Razorbacks take the field at Globe Life Field tonight in Arlington, Texas.

The No. 4 Razorbacks (3-1) face No. 7 Oregon State (5-0) at 7 p.m. in the evening finale on the opening day of the College Baseball Series at the home of the World Series champion Texas Rangers.

It will mark the first meeting between the baseball powerhouses since Oregon State captured its third College World Series title with a 5-0 win over the Razorbacks on June 28, 2018, at Omaha, Neb.

The previous day, a foul pop down the first-base line with two outs in the ninth inning was triangulated but not caught by three Razorbacks — when a secured catch would have sealed the national title for Arkansas. The Beavers rallied for a 5-3 win with the extra life and claimed the title at TD Ameritrade Park the following day.

Of all the disappointing moments in the three major sports at Arkansas, that one has to rank among the most painful.

The Razorbacks have been back to Omaha twice since dropping the heartbreaker to Oregon State but have not been able to get back to the three-game championship series.

Meanwhile, SEC foes Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and LSU have won the four most recent CWS titles while Arkansas has claimed three of the past four SEC West crowns.

Beating Oregon State tonight will not atone for the crushing setback in 2018. But it will push the early season in a good direction for the Razorbacks (3-1).

Oregon State (5-0) is off to a sizzling start that includes a 10-4 win over No. 22 Texas Tech on Wednesday at Arlington. The Beavers have outscored their opponents 52-17.

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn complimented James Madison for being a solid team that didn’t beat itself after last week’s series at Baum-Walker Stadium, but he said this weekend offers a stiffer test. After the Oregon State game, the Hogs face Oklahoma State on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Michigan on Sunday at 1 p.m.

“Now what we’re going to start seeing this weekend is … some elevated velocity on the mound,” Van Horn said. “That’s going to make the competition ramp up.

“Neutral site, it’s going to be a super-big challenge for us. I’m looking forward to seeing how we play, how we react when we get there. I think when we walk away on Sunday afternoon, we’ll have a lot better feel of what we are all about and what we really need to work on.”

Oregon State has 14 home runs this season, 10 more than Arkansas, which recorded four solo shots during a 3-1 series victory over James Madison.

Fifth-year Oregon State Coach Mitch Canham was a two-time College World Series champion as a players for the Beavers in 2006-07. He’s back in the Oregon State dugout after spending 3 1/2 seasons as a manager in the Seattle Mariners’ organization.

“Arkansas is a program that is at the top of the line every single year,” Canham said last week. “When you’re playing the best competition, you know they’re going to be ready out the gate, too.”

The game will match up a pair of aces in Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith (0-0, 27.00 ERA) and Oregon State right-hander Aiden May (1-0, 1.69).

Smith gave up a leadoff walk, a hit batter on an 0-2 count and a wind-blown home run to the first three batters while struggling with his control in the season-opener. The 6-2 junior from Bullard, Texas, needed 42 pitches to escape the rocky first inning.

Though he was 23-28 pitches away from his predetermined pitch count for the day, Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs elected to pull him after one inning.

Van Horn said he has talked to Smith only briefly since the opener.

“My conversations with Hagen are, ‘Hey, look forward to watching you pitch Friday night,’ ” Van Horn said Monday when asked how he thought Smith would respond. “I ask him how his dog is doing. I don’t talk about pitching with Hagen. Hagen knows how to pitch. He’s fine. I’m not worried about it.”

Van Horn predicted Smith would be “much better” in today’s outing.

May threw 80 pitches in Oregon State’s 15-6 opening win over New Mexico. He held the Lobos in check on with 1 run on 4 hits and 2 walks through 5 1/3 innings with 4 strikeouts last Friday. May transferred to Oregon State after one season at Arizona, where he compiled a 5-3 record and a 6.33 ERA in 16 starts with 77 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings.

The Beavers have a whopping .331 team batting average, which ranks 38th in Division I, with six regulars hitting .333 or better and their .675 slugging percentage ranks fifth in the country.

Second baseman Travis Bazzana (.450, 7 RBI) already has three home runs. Outfielders Brady Kasper (.375, 1 HR) and Gavin Turley (.333, 2 HR) are the team RBI leaders with nine. Third baseman Trent Caraway (.474, 2 HR, 2 RBI), center fielder Micah McDowell (.471, 1, 4) and catcher Tanner Smith (.333, 1, 3) are also tearing it up, and designated hitter Dallas Macias (.500) is 3 for 6 in two starts.

Arkansas is hitting .310 with right fielder Kendall Diggs (.400, 2 RBI), first baseman Ben McLaughlin (.385, 4 RBI), catcher Hudson White (.357, 5 extra-base hits, 1 HR, 3 RBI), center field Ty Wilmsmeyer (.333, 1 HR, 5 RBI) and third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott (.333, 1, 4) off to good starts.