Lanzilli Home Run Highlights Blowout Arkansas Win to Begin CWS

Image credit: Arkansas OF Chris Lanzilli (Photo courtesy of Arkansas)

OMAHA — When good teams go looking for players in the transfer portal, it’s often to fill a specific need or to just tinker with an already-outstanding roster, and for Arkansas, catcher Michael Turner and outfielder Chris Lanzilli fit that bill. 

Turner arrived in Fayetteville from Kent State as a ready-made replacement for veteran catcher Casey Opitz, who had departed via the draft. Lanzilli, after four productive seasons at Wake Forest, gave the Razorbacks some thump in the lineup to help replace the likes of Christian Franklin and Matt Goodheart

On Saturday, both played a role in Arkansas’ 17-2 win over Stanford to begin its stay in the 2022 College World Series. 

Lanzilli really broke things open for the Razorbacks. In a 1-1 game in the top of the fifth, after DH Brady Slavens and third baseman Cayden Wallace singled in front of him, Lanzilli connected for a three-run home run to left-center to put Arkansas on top 4-1. 

“To play on this stage is really why I came here. And to do something like that is awesome. And to win the game is even better. I just want to keep it rolling,” Lanzilli said. 

That swing seemed to open the floodgates for the Razorbacks against Stanford pitching, as they ended up with five runs in the fifth before pushing three more across in the seventh, two in the eighth and six in the ninth on a day when they collected 21 hits, which is a record for any CWS game since the event moved to Charles Schwab Field (formerly TD Ameritrade Park) in 2011. 

Turner had four of those hits, singles in the first, third, sixth and ninth innings, which led the team. 

Lanzilli and Turner have been doing things like this all season as those two have developed not just into complementary pieces but starring players in the Arkansas lineup. 

As it stands, they are the two leading hitters in the Arkansas lineup, with Lanzilli putting up a .324 average and Turner right behind him at .320. Until a three-hit game for Cayden Wallace Saturday pushed his average to .304, they were also the only two batters with season averages over .300. They’ve also combined for 24 doubles and 18 home runs. 

Finding the right transfers is a delicate thing. It’s not just about performance. It’s also about fit within the program generally and with the individual team more specifically. 

That’s true no matter where players are transferring, but it adds another layer of complexity that these players transferred to Arkansas, a place with College World Series expectations that plays in the toughest conference in the country. 

You just never know if transfers are going to work out in a new location, but Arkansas had a good feeling for both. 

With Lanzilli, the numbers speak for themselves, but he also came highly recommended by assistant coach Matt Hobbs, who was at Wake Forest with Lanzilli prior to coming to Fayetteville. 

When it comes to Turner, the Razorbacks knew he could hit, but were also intrigued by his defensive ability, which he didn’t always get to showcase at Kent State. He wasn’t among the highest-profile transfers in the offseason, but he sold himself to the coaching staff well. 

“He told me basically, I remember, he told me ‘you just give me a chance,’ because people weren’t beating his door down to take him,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “And that was a pretty good move by us taking him.”

What shouldn’t be lost in the run-scoring bonanza for Arkansas is the performance of righthander Connor Noland, who was a model of brutal efficiency in his outing. 

The individual line is good as it is. He finished with 7.2 innings, having given up six hits and two runs, but more impressive than that is the way he went about it.

Noland did all of that on just 79 pitches. He pitched in eight separate innings. In four of them he threw fewer than 10 pitches, and if it weren’t for a 10-pitch at-bat against Brock Jones that ended in a strikeout in the sixth inning, he probably would have thrown fewer than that in that frame as well. 

He struck out just one batter, but that’s more than okay given the way he was able to exploit a Stanford offense that wasn’t all that interested in working deep counts. 

“I knew they were going to swing the bat,” Noland said. “They’re an aggressive team, they like to put the ball in play. We had the wind blowing in. I get a lot of ground balls normally. I just stuck to the plan. They’re very aggressive. Didn’t get a lot of two-strike counts. They just put the ball in play, and I let the defense work behind me.

Noland has been so important for Arkansas this season, but he’s gone above and beyond during this postseason run. 

In starts against Grand Canyon in the regional, North Carolina in the super regional and Stanford here in Omaha, he’s given up three runs in 21.1 innings.

“He set the tone. He sets the tone for the whole weekend,” Van Horn said. “When you get to these tournaments you’ve got to win at least three the first round and two the second round and obviously maybe five total here. So for him to pitch like he’s pitched in game one and give us a chance to rest our guys and feel good about using our bullpen a couple of times really from maybe the sixth or seventh inning of his first outing on three times in a row, it’s been big.”

A late slump during the regular season, including going 0-2 in the SEC Tournament, ensured that Arkansas was going to have to win games on the road to play for a national title this season.

But since then, Arkansas has been playing like a different team. That includes Saturday, when the Razorbacks put together as complete a performance as a team could possibly muster. 

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