Big Inning Powers Arkansas Past Texas
OMAHA, Neb.—A banana and a Snickers. That’s it.
Arkansas might be closely associated with hogs, but head coach Dave Van Horn makes sure his players don’t eat like them. Van Horn learned his lesson earlier this season, when the Razorbacks won the first game of a doubleheader, pigged out on a “smorgasbord” between games and got destroyed in the nightcap.
So when lightning struck Sunday afternoon in the sixth inning in the College World Series against Texas and a two hour and 49-minute weather delay ensued, Van Horn turned his players away from the locker room cheese and crackers board and reminded them of his snack rule:
A banana and a Snickers. That’s it.
When the rain started, the Razorbacks already had a three-run lead over the Longhorns. Better yet, they had the bases loaded with no one out—on the precipice of breaking the game wide open. But Van Horn didn’t want to mess around. He wanted to go for the kill.
He kept the Razorbacks loose and engaged. Several hitters took hacks in the TD Ameritrade Park batting cages. When play finally resumed, and Van Horn saw that Texas put No. 2 starter Chase Shugart on the mound in relief, it signaled to him just how desperate the Longhorns were to stay in the ball game.
Van Horn pulled freshman third baseman Casey Martin aside and told him, “This starts with you. He’s one of their guys. He’s going to attack you.”
Martin swung at the first pitch. An RBI single. The next batter, left fielder Heston Kjerstad, swatted a two-run knock to left.
It didn’t stop. Run after run, hit after hit. The Razorbacks feasted on six Texas pitchers in just that one inning, scoring eight runs. And that was the game. Texas tried to rally late, but the Longhorns fell, 11-5.
“Sometimes with rain delays you can get a little lethargic after them,” Arkansas senior designated hitter Luke Bonfield said. “And we kind of stayed loose, didn't eat a ton and took some swings in the cages down there and came out.
“. . . And once Casey Martin hit that lead-off hit after the rain delay, everything just kind of snowballed on them and we got a ton more momentum. We just never let up on the gas. So it was good for our offense.”
Before that sixth inning, Bonfield had delivered the biggest blow in what had been a pitcher’s duel. Both Arkansas ace righthander Blaine Knight and Texas righty Nolan Kingham matched each other pitch for pitch in the early going, with the Longhorns actually taking a 2-1 lead over the Razorbacks in the fifth.
But with two outs in the fifth and Kjerstad on first, Bonfield walloped an elevated sinker from Kingham into the left-field seats for the first home run of the 2018 College World Series, giving Arkansas a lead it would never relinquish.
The Hogs have shown time and time again just how explosive they can be. In seven postseason games, they’ve scored double-digit runs four times. The Longhorns are typically stingier on the mound than they showed Sunday, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t find the zone in the sixth inning.
It started with back-to-back singles against Kingham, then continued with back-to-back walks from reliever Parker Joe Robinson. Then another bases-loaded walk from reliever Josh Sawyer, which sent both teams into the rain delay.
Kingham, Robinson, Sawyer and Shugart were charged with all eight runs in the frame; none of them recorded a single out. The Longhorns turned to two more relievers—Kamron Fields and Andy McGuire—just to end the inning.
“You just can't afford to pitch behind against Arkansas,” Texas coach David Pierce said. “And that's what happened when we got unraveled—either we pitched behind or we tried to get strike one and threw white-on-white instead of a quality pitch.
"I'm not shellshocked. It's just part of it. It's not the way we wished it had gone. Unfortunately, it got away from us and we just couldn't overcome the deficit.”
With the win, the Razorbacks advance to a winners' bracket bout against Texas Tech, while the Longhorns will play Florida in an elimination game.
Certainly, the Hogs didn’t disappoint in their first Omaha trip since 2015. Razorback fans comprised the overwhelming majority of a crowd of 23,034, creating a loud, lively, raucous atmosphere—so raucous that two fans ran onto the field during the rain delay at separate times. Both were tackled into submission.
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While the fans might’ve gotten a bit restless, the Razorbacks stayed locked in—and even more, they stayed hungry.
“When you come out of a delay with bases loaded, no out and one of your best hitters at the plate, we were confident,” catcher Grant Koch said. “We knew Casey was going to get it done.
“Be relentless. Never give an at-bat away. We have guys who can do it 1-through-9.”
And 1-through-9, they did.