See also: CWS
Game Three Box Score
|GAME AT A GLANCE|
|Turning Point: David Starn got the first two outs of the sixth inning, looking to shut down Arkansas after Kent State got back in the game with Jimmy Rider’s solo homer in the top half. But the Razorbacks rallied with a double and
walk, and Starn couldn’t get past Matt Vinson, whom he’d struck out the
first two at-bats. Vinson doubled to left to plate two runs and extend Arkansas’ lead to 5-1.
The Hero:Junior D.J. Baxendale was supposed to be Arkansas’ ace this season, and while he hasn’t lived up to preseason billing, he was at his best Saturday afternoon. He gave up just three hits in 6 1/3 innings and allowed only a solo homer to earn the victory.
You Might Have Missed: Arkansas won even though its top hitter, junior third baseman Matt Reynolds, went 0-for-3 while grounding into three double plays.
OMAHA—When you win a pair of 1-0 NCAA tournament games on the way to the College World Series, you expect to win in TD Ameritrade Park Omaha with pitching and defense.
Arkansas did win with pitching and defense Saturday against Kent State, but it threw in some offense for kicks. Catcher Jake Wise had a season-high three RBIs, including the Razorbacks’ first home run since May 19, to help key a 10-hit attack and an 8-1 victory.
Arkansas (45-20) moves on to Monday to face the winner of the evening’s Florida-South Carolina showdown. Kent State (46-19) will face elimination against either the nation’s top-ranked team (Florida) or the two-time defending national champion (South Carolina).
Golden Flashes coach Scott Stricklin served with USA Baseball’s College National Team as an assistant alongside Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn last summer, and he has tremendous respect for Van Horn and D.J. Baxendale, who was on that team. He had a favorable opinion of the Razorbacks already, but even moreso after Saturday’s game.
“We all know the pitching is what’s got them here,” Stricklin said. “If they have that kind of (offensive) approach . . . they had a good approach, worked counts, got ahead in the count, played clean defense for the most part. (If) they play like that, they’ve got a chance to win the national championship, no question about it. With that defense and that pitching they’ve got a chance to win it all.”
Freshman Joe Serrano had three more hits to improve to 10-for-17 in the postseason, helping key the Razorbacks’ improved offensive showing. The Hogs put up just seven runs in their three-game super regional victory at Baylor after scoring 11 runs in three games to win the Houston Regional at Rice.
Kent State ace David Starn entered the game 11-3, 2.21 overall, but Arkansas has had success against offspeed lefthanders of late, and assistant coach Todd Butler put together an effective game plan to get to him.
“We were sitting on offspeed,” said Serrano, who has settled into a role as Arkansas’ DH against lefthanded pitchers. “We got up in the box to kind of eliminate the drop, and towards the plate to eliminate the outside pitch. We were just looking offspeed, sitting offspeed, not even looking at the fastballs. Previously he threw his changeup 20 out of 26 for balls, so if you pick up the changeup, let it go. We got some balls that were elevated and took advantage.”
That happened for No. 9 hitter Wise, who hit a 1-0 fastball out for a solo home run in the second, and for Serrano, whose single in the fifth drove in Wise to make it 3-0. After Kent State closed to 3-1 on Jimmy Rider’s solo homer in the top of the sixth, Arkansas staged a two-out rally in the bottom half with No. 8 hitter Matt Vinson’s two-run double the key blow. Wise, whose homer was just his second of the season, added a two-run single in the eighth to account for the final margin.
In the meantime, Baxendale handcuffed the Golden Flashes offense, and reliever Brandon Moore gave up only one hit while getting the final eight outs for his third save of the season. Baxendale walked only one and struck out five while the sinkerballer Moore got every out but one via the groundout.
“D.J. Baxendale was outstanding,” Stricklin said. “He kept us off balance, his fastball was sharp, he threw his breaking ball for strikes when behind in the count . . . When you compete like that and you’ve got great stuff, it’s going to be really, really difficult to hit. So he was outstanding. He was the reason why we struggled a little bit, no question about it.
“They hit in some pretty positive counts. David faced 26 hitters and only two swung at the first pitch. That was key; they got ahead in the count. They had a plan to be patient and make David throw strikes. They had a really good scouting report; their approach was really good today.”
Arkansas will have to keep hitting to win the event, especially in a bracket with Southeastern Conference heavyweights Florida and South Carolina. Saturday’s showing had to give the Razorbacks the confidence that their postseason run can continue.
“Against Baylor I felt like I let the team down,” said Baxendale (8-5), “so to come out here on this stage and get us through Game One is huge for my confidence, and for the team as well. Florida and South Carolina are great teams; it’s going to be interesting tonight, and whoever we face, we know it will be tough game.”