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Arkansas Not Beaten After Tough College World Series Loss

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(Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

OMAHA, Neb.—The game was where Arkansas wanted it Wednesday night in Game 2 of the College World Series finals. The Razorbacks led Oregon State by a run going into the ninth inning with closer Matt Cronin, who on Tuesday night set the program record with his 14th save of the season, on the mound. In 126 of the previous 128 CWS games, the team that held the lead going into the ninth inning went on to win the game.

Zak Taylor walked to lead off the ninth inning for Oregon State and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. That brought Nick Madrigal, the fourth overall pick in the draft, to the plate. Cronin jammed him, and he grounded out to first, moving Taylor to third.

The game was nearly won. The Beavers were down to their last out with Cadyn Grenier at the plate. Most of the 25,580 fans at TD Ameritrade Park thought the game was over when Grenier lofted a fly ball into foul territory down the right field line, but the ball fell in among three Razorbacks. Down to his last strike, but gifted new life, Grenier roped a single to left to tie the game. Three pitches later, Trevor Larnach drove a two-run home run into the Oregon State bullpen in right field and the Beavers had completed their comeback.

Oregon State defeated Arkansas, 5-3, to force the best-of-three finals to a decisive third game on Thursday evening.

After coming so close to realizing their dream and winning the first national championship in program history, the Razorbacks were eager to move on to the next game.

“We’re all ready to play,” catcher Grant Koch said. “I think for a lot of us, a lot of us are local and some of the guys that aren’t, but it’s one more day for us to be a Razorback and that’s all you can ask.

“One of two teams left standing in the last day of the College World Series. You can’t ask for much more. We’re still standing, alive and ready to go for sure.”

Arkansas expended a lot of energy and resources to get within one strike of the national championship. Cronin threw 42 pitches over 1.2 innings a day after throwing 15 pitches to close out Game 1. Setup man Barrett Loseke threw 22 pitches to cover 1.1 innings a day after throwing 22 pitches over two innings. Both may be limited in the series finale as a result.

The physical toll on Arkansas’ top relievers is unavoidable. But coach Dave Van Horn expects that his team’s resiliency will help it quickly put Wednesday’s disappointment behind it.

“They’ve been tough all year,” he said. “We’ve had some tough losses that some games that got away from us. And we just didn’t play well. So, I think they’re going to come out, give us a great effort.”

The Razorbacks will have righthander Isaiah Campbell on the mound to start Thursday. His last start came last Friday against Florida in the game that sent Arkansas to the finals. He turned in his best start of the season, striking out eight batters and holding the Gators to two runs on two hits in 5.1 innings.

Coming off that start, the Razorbacks can feel confident with the powerful redshirt sophomore on the mound.

“He’s going to battle out there for us,” Koch said. “He’s been really, really good of late. And he’s been really good in big-time situations, when we need him. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

“I think that’s what we all expect and that’s what we’re going to get.”

Arkansas knows it can’t all fall on Campbell. The Razorbacks have one of the best offenses in the country but have produced just seven runs on 12 hits in the first two games of the finals. That has to change in Game 3 against what is expected to be a bullpen day for Oregon State.

Thursday provides a new opportunity for Arkansas. And in a winner-take-all situation, the on-paper matchups only count for so much. The Razorbacks and Beavers will play for it all and both will have to dig deep to lift the trophy.

Van Horn knows his team will be ready to go—even after the brutal finish Wednesday night.

“It was a tough loss,” Van Horn said. “What do you do? You got a chance to play for a national championship going down to the last day. Just got to fight through it.”

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