This is one day that it’s better for the Arkansas Razorbacks to be waiting than playing.
Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks (42-18) topped the tough Dallas Baptist Patriots, 4-3, Sunday night in dramatic fashion to win the Fayetteville Regional and advance to the Super Regional round of the NCAA Baseball Tournament.
The Hogs know where they will play this weekend. As the fifth overall seed in the tournament, Arkansas will host again, but exactly who they will play has yet to be decided.
Rain delays in the Greenville (N.C.) Regional on Sunday have the Hogs waiting.
Inclement weather pushed the Greenville championship game between North Carolina-Wilmington and South Carolina until noon today (June 4).
Advancing through the winner’s bracket, the Gamecocks would need to win just once to advance to the Fayetteville Super Regional, while the Seahawks would need to win at noon and 5 p.m. to make their way to Baum Stadium. ESPN3 will stream the noon and 5 p.m. games of the Greenville Regional, if necessary.
The Razorbacks know the Gamecocks well, playing them four times already this season. The Hogs won the three-game, regular-season series at Baum Stadium two games to one, and the Razorbacks defeated South Carolina, 13-8, in their first game in the SEC Tournament.
The regular-season series was much closer. South Carolina, the only SEC team to win at Baum Stadium this season, beat the Hogs, 3-2, in the opener, but Arkansas blanked the Gamecocks, 2-0 and 3-0 to win the series.
Several individual Razorbacks are playing a second kind of waiting game with the Major League Baseball Draft commencing tonight.
Junior pitcher Blaine Knight (11-0, 2.47 ERA) is expected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick in the draft.
Pitchers Isaiah Campbell and Kacey Murphy, catcher Grant Koch, outfielder Eric Cole, and shortstop Jax Biggers are expected to be selected in the 40-round draft that concludes Wednesday. As always, several of the Razorbacks’ signing class will be targeted by the draft.
The waiting day gives Razorbacks fans the chance to revel for another day in the Razorbacks’ outstanding performance over the weekend.
The Hogs based Oral Roberts, 10-2, on Friday with Knight on the mound, and spanked Southern Miss in like manner, 10-2, with Murphy on the mound Saturday.
After those outcomes, it looked like Hogs might just cruise through the Regional, but the Patriots (42-21) would have nothing of it. Fighting through the loser’s bracket, Dallas Baptist played better and better through the weekend, and they gave the Razorbacks all they wanted before finally bowing out.
Campbell started for the Hogs, but he was on a very short leash. After walking the first two batters and surrendering a hard-hit single to load the bases, Van Horn ended his night quickly, calling on Jake Reindl (3-1) for the rescue with no outs.
He got the Hogs out of the first-inning jam down just 1-0, and gave up another run to the Patriots in the second, but held Dallas Baptist in check with fine support by the Hogs’ defense until Matt Cronin came on board to strike out the side in the eighth.
The Razorbacks manufactured a run in the third with Eric Cole’s grounder plating Jared Gates. The small ball continued in the fourth with the Hogs scoring two runs thanks to opportunistic base running, and putting the ball in play in a timely fashion.
That was something the Patriots failed to do, stranding 11 men on base.
Left fielder Heston Kjerstad made the play of the regional in the top of the sixth inning when he perfectly timed his leap to rob Patriot Devlin Granberg of a home run.
Kjerstad wasn’t done. His seventh-inning RBI single plated Gates to put the Hogs up 4-2. That RBI proved to be the game-winning hit.
Cronin gave up a run in the ninth, but ultimately overpowered the Patriots at the plate.
It was a drama-filled game with clutch performances by Reindl, Kjerstad, Gates, and Cronin, but every Hog played their part.
While it might have been fun to watch the Hogs blow past the Patriots to cruise through the regional, a tight game might serve the Razorbacks well as they move along through the tournament.
No sense in getting a big head. Plus victories like Sunday’s tend to build confidence and pull a team even closer together.
The Hogs also showed they don’t have to rely on the big inning or smashing home runs to win games. That could prove to be vital for Arkansas’ quest for a national title should they make it to the College World Series in Omaha. TD Ameritrade Park isn’t quite as home run friendly as Baum Stadium.
But it was a heck of a weekend at Baum Stadium with the Razorbacks treating fans to two blowouts and one drama-filled Regional finale.
It’s not so bad playing the waiting game to learn who will be the Hogs’ next opponent us. It gives us all a chance to collect ourselves and catch our breath.
That’s much more comfortable than having to play and sweat out an elimination game tonight, if the Hogs had not dispatched the Patriots on Sunday.