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Texas bats, Howell humble Arkansas
By Will Kimmey
OMAHA--Texas entered the NCAA tournament as the nation's preeminent pitching-and-defense team. The Longhorns have used the postseason to add the final phase to its overall game, developing as an offensive power by scoring nearly 10 runs per game.
Texas hung 13 on Arkansas to earn a 13-2 win in the second game of the College World Series in front of 22,487 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium. It marked the worst loss of the year for Arkansas and its worst CWS loss ever.
Texas (56-13) averaged six runs per game during the regular season, and 5.5 during Big 12 Conference play, but scored 24 in three regional games and piled up 25 runs in two games against Vanderbilt in the super-regional.
"We know the statistics don't matter," Longhorns coach Augie Garrido said. "They don't carry over when you get into this tournament. The past doesn't predict the future, nor does it determine it."
First baseman Curtis Thigpen led the attack with four hits in five at-bats, and DH Dooley Prince used three hits to drive in a game-high four runs.
"It was real important for our confidence as hitters," Prince said. "Everyone was saying how we weren't a good-hitting team, and we know we are a good-hitting team. I think going out and getting a good start should help us through the week."
The Arkansas pitching didn't help itself much, either. The Razorbacks issued six walks and hit five batters (tying a CWS record), and four of these free passes came with the bases loaded to force in runs. Arkansas' five hit batsmen tied a CWS record, and adding in three hit by Texas pitching sets a combined record of eight in one CWS game.
Arkansas (45-23) didn't come by its offense as easily as Texas. Lefthander J.P. Howell didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning, and Arkansas didn't register its second safety until right fielder Scott Bridges hit Howell's 125th pitch of the evening--a curveball he left up in the strike zone--over the right-field fence with two outs in the seventh inning. Howell fooled the Arkansas hitters with his curveball and slider all night, finishing with eight strikeouts. He improved to 15-2 and tied Long Beach State's Jered Weaver for the national wins lead.
"I felt good tonight," Howell said. "I was happy where I was at. There were times when I lost my control but then I found it again. They're tough because they don't swing at bad pitches and foul off good ones."
Arkansas' strategy of taking pitches caused Howell to issued a season-high six walks and hit a batter. His control problems seeped into meteorology. He shaved his head nearly down to the skin to battle the Omaha heat, but found a rainy night when the temperatures dipped to 58 degrees.
"We knew it would be tough to hit Howell," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We had an approach and it worked a little bit, but he's good. There's a reason he was a (Royals supplemental) first-round pick and won 15 games."
Still, the Razorbacks threatened in the top of the fifth. Trailing 4-0, they loaded the bases with two outs on two walks and an error by shortstop Michael Hollimon. But No. 3 hitter Danny Goodwin dribbled one back to Howell to end the inning.
"We always think we are in the game and think we can come back," Bridges said. "But tonight we didn't get the key hits."
Arkansas barely got any type of hits. It ended the game with just two, its lowest output of the season. Arkansas registered just three hits on four occasions this season. It even won one of the games, 4-3 against Wichita State in the regional clincher.
Righthander Charley Boyce started for Arkansas and wasn't nearly as sharp as his counterpart. He walked two batters and hit two others in the first inning, forcing in two runs as Texas jumped out 2-0. Boyce, who also threw two wild pitches, allowed five runs--three earned--on seven hits and three walks over five innings to fall to 10-3.
"I had a little trouble adjusting," Boyce said. "If I went in, I missed in and you can't really do that to a good team."
Arkansas gets a shot at redemption Sunday at 2 p.m. with Clint Brannon facing Arizona in an elimination game. Texas and its newly potent offense advances to a 7 p.m. winner's bracket meeting with Georgia.
"I don't think we've changed anything," Thigpen said. "We try to bring the same approach to the plate every game. (But) we have guys who have been here before and we realize what part of the season it is. We realize what we have to do to succeed. At this time in the season, we have to step it up."