Pitching lifts Hogs into NCAA Super Regional

Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

What an exquisite weekend of baseball it was for Razorback fans at Baum-Walker Park.

The Arkansas Razorbacks (44-17) did what was expected of a National Seed in fine fashion, winning the Fayetteville Regional with the minimum three games to advance to the Super Regionals of the NCAA Tournament.

The Razorbacks will host Ole Miss (40-25) in the Fayetteville Super Regional in a best-of-three series at Baum-Walker Stadium, beginning on Saturday, the NCAA announced Tuesday morning on its website.

Game times are tentatively set for 11 a.m. Saturday (ESPN), 2 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU), and 3 p.m. Monday (ESPN2). The NCAA website reported that game times and networks are subject to change.

Winning the Fayetteville Regional wasn’t easy, and the Hogs weren’t exactly dominant, defeating Central Connecticut State, 11-5, on Friday; TCU, 3-1, on Saturday, and 6-0 on Sunday, but it perhaps was the best showing by Razorback starting pitching all season.

Anticipating a crucial game on Saturday, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle strategically held back their aces on Friday for the second-day of competition, setting up what turned into a fantastic pitching duel between Arkansas’ Isaiah Campbell, taken Monday by Seattle as the 76th pick in the second round of the Major League Draft, and TCU’s Nick Lodolo, taken as the 7th pick overall.

The MLB sees Lodolo as the better prospect, but head-to-head, Campbell got the best of TCU’s top gun in Arkansas’ 3-1 victory Saturday in the pivotal game of the Regional.

Van Horn’s masterful decision to hold Campbell for a day went against the grain of his usual decision making.

During the course of his 17 years as the Hogs head coach, Van Horn has usually started his ace on the first day of competition regardless of the situation. His strategy this time kept the Hogs in the winner’s bracket throughout the tournament as Campbell turned in what — considering the stakes — was likely the best performance of his college career.

Campbell pitched eight innings, locking up the Horned Frogs for just a single run on four hits against a walk and eight strikeouts.

Campbell has been the backbone for the Razorbacks all season, and he turned in his best performance of the year so far when the Hogs needed it most. That’s the type of leadership it takes for a team to make something special happen.

If Campbell gets the opportunity and is able to get three more starts like that one, expect the Hogs to be in contention for the national title again this year.

That said, Van Horn was able to risk holding Campbell for Saturday only because of the development of freshmen pitchers Connor Noland, a right-hander, and Jason Wicklander, a left-hander. The duo has pitched well for the Razorbacks for the bulk of the season as starters, and they are only improving the deeper Arkansas has moved into the postseason.

Noland got the call for the opening round because Central Connecticut State had more trouble with right-handers than Southpaws. He picked up the win, giving up 2 runs on 2 hits with 2 strikeouts and no walks over 5.1 innings on the mound. Noland got the Hogs off to the start they needed on Friday in the 11-5 victory that was complicated by three errors.

On Sunday, Wicklander gave the Horned Frogs no room to breathe, striking out 7 batters over 5 innings and surrendering a single walk and no runs. Getting three runs as support in the first inning allowed him to work with confidence as he slammed the door on the Horned Frogs for over half the game.

Arkansas’ bullpen did a good job of finishing off what the Razorbacks’ starters began in all three games. Coming into the season, pitching was a concern. By no means does Arkansas have a dominant staff, but Campbell is outstanding and the rest of Arkansas’ pitching has steadily gotten better and better as the season has gone on. It always good to see a pitching staff performing at its best in the postseason, and in the Fayetteville Regional, that’s what the Razorbacks did.

Fletcher Drafted in 2nd Round

Pitcher Isaiah Campbell wasn’t the only Razorbacks drafted in the Major League Baseball draft Monday night. Junior center fielder Dominic Fletcher was taken one pick before Campbell by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Fletcher, a two-time SEC All-Defensive Team selection and three-year starter, leads the Hogs in RBI with 56, and is hitting .312 with 10 home runs and 23 doubles.

Arkansas junior closer Matt Cronin, a lefty, is expected to be the next Razorback selected.

NCAA Tourney maintains SEC Flavor

Six SEC teams remain in play for the Super Regionals in the NCAA Baseball Tournament this weekend, which means as many as five SEC teams could make the eight-team College World Series field.

Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Auburn all won their regionals.

The fifth-seeded Razorbacks (44-17) and 12th-seeded Rebels (40-25) open their Super Regional at 11 a.m. in Baum Walker Stadium, and are the only SEC teams paired against each other. They have played five times this season with Ole Miss holding a 3-2 advantage, including winning their regular-season series at Baum-Walker Stadium, 2-1. It was the only SEC series the Hogs lost at home this season.

No. 2 seed Vanderbilt (52-10) hosts Duke (34-25) at 5 p.m. Friday. No. 13 LSU (40-24) hosts Florida State (39-21) at 5 p.m. Saturday. Auburn (36-25) plays at No. 14 North Carolina (45-17) at 11 a.m. Saturday. No. 6 Mississippi State (49-13) hosts No. 11 Stanford (45-12) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The Super Regional pairings that don’t include SEC teams are Michigan (44-19) at No. 1 UCLA (51-9) at 8 p.m. Friday, No. 9 Oklahoma State (39-19) at No. 8 Texas Tech (42-17) at 2 p.m. Friday, and No. 10 East Carolina at No. 7 Louisville (47-16) at 11 a.m. Friday.