The Arkansas Razorbacks scraped the mustard off a hotdog Monday night in Stillwater, Okla., eliminating a tough, talented, but animated bunch of Oklahoma State Cowboys at O’Brate Stadium, 7-3.
The calm, cool, and collected Hogs (41-19) now advance to the NCAA Super Regional at Chapel Hill, N.C. this weekend where they will face the homesteading Tar Heels, a 7-3 winner over Virginia Commonwealth on Monday.
Arkansas will play North Carolina at 10 a.m. Saturday and at noon on Sunday. The games will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2 and can be streamed on ESPN Plus. ESPN will announce which of its channels will televise the games later in the week. If necessary, a third game will be played Monday with time and TV outlet to be announced later.
Next up for the Diamond Hogs
Opponent: North Carolina
When: 10 a.m. Saturday, June 11
Where: Super Regional – Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV: ESPN or ESPN2
Chapel Hill Super Regional
Game 2: 12 p.m. Sunday, June 5
Game 3: TBD Monday, June 6 (if necessary)
It’s the Razorbacks’ fourth appearance in Super Regional play in a row, dating back to 2018. The NCAA did not hold a tournament in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Razorback baseball coach Dave Van Horn summed up the climactic conclusion of a high-octane weekend of baseball by saying “what a game,” and it was.
And what a fine effort by a tired but resilient Razorback pitching staff that finally lassoed and hawg tied the cocky Cowboys’ power-hitting lineup that had been crushing the baseball all tournament long at a regional that set an NCAA record for runs scored
Hog pitchers Zack Morris, Kole Ramage, Zebulon Vermillion, and freshman Hagen Smith combined for a doozy of an effort that subdued OSU’s formidable lineup which had plated 73 runs in its previous three regional games and propelled the Razorbacks forward for at least another week on this fine season.
There were many heroes for the Hogs over the span of the tournament, but the resilience showed by Smith, who started Saturday’s 20-12 victory over the Cowboys, but was chased after pitching only an inning and 1/3, characterized the toughness of Razorbacks’ program that eschews flamboyance but embraces gritty tenacity.
After falling 14-10 in 10 innings Sunday night to OSU, Van Horn sent a text to his pitching staff, asking them what they had left in the tank for Monday’s critical elimination game.
The text messages “blew up” Van Horn’s phone, but the first response came from Smith.
“He said, ‘My arm feels awesome. I want the ball in any situation,’” Van Horn said of his hard-throwing freshman. “It meant something to me, because he really wanted the ball. He’s got all the ability in the world. He didn’t have a good outing the day before last.”
Chopping heads off & taking lives pic.twitter.com/tr8HFzDypj
— Arkansas Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) June 7, 2022
But Smith came through big time for his team Monday night.
In the eighth inning with the Hogs hanging tight to a 5-3 lead, Smith came to the mound. The Cowboys loaded the bases, but Smith gathered himself and struck out Chase Adkinson and the hard-hitting, bleached-blond freshman Roc Riggio, whose play thus far had put him at the head of the line for tournament MVP honors.
That was the turning point of the game.
“Just an amazing, amazing job by Hagen in that tough situation with all that was on the line for our team,” Van Horn said. “… our team was jacked, and so was he. We had to calm him down, because the game wasn’t over.”
Juiced by getting the Hogs out of a jam in the eighth, Smith set the Cowboys down in order in the ninth, and the Razorback fans on hand whooped, hollered, and hog called while the cocky Cowboys shuffled off the field and the high-strung Riggio threw a fit in the OSU dugout.
It was a huge win for the Hogs, and they did celebrate, but there was no hog pile after the game and no taunting of their dejected opponent.
OSU coach Josh Holliday was all class after the game, giving credit where it was due.
“They mixed their pitches well and they showed us some different looks,” he said of the Hogs’ pitching performance. “The young man at the end made some big pitches with the game on the line. Compliments to him.”
Smith and his fellow pitchers weren’t the only heroes for the Hogs. Razorback catcher Michael Turner, a graduate-transfer from Wake Forest, earned the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player designation for his overall performance in the tourney.
Turner, who went 8 of 18 in the tourney with 11 RBIs, knocked in two runs on the night, along with shortstop Jalen Battles and first baseman Peyton Stovall, who each had two hits. Designated hitter Brady Slaves also belted a key home run for the Hogs.
Third baseman Cayden Wallace made what might have been the defensive play of the tournament in the second inning, barehanding a slow roller while rushing forward and then firing across his body while falling down for an out in the second inning;
Turner, though, swatted a 2-out, 2-run double in the ninth inning to give the Razorbacks some padding on what had been a tenuous 2-run lead with the hard-hitting Cowboys coming up for their final at bat.
Your Stillwater Regional MVP pic.twitter.com/6YG31DJ3vV
— Arkansas Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) June 7, 2022
“That was a big relief on our side,” Van Horn said. “But at the same time, we didn’t feel like the game was over.”
Thanks to Smith’s clutch performance on the mound, the Hogs didn’t need the insurance, but no doubt, it only packed the pressure on the Cowboys as they saw their season slipping away.
However, it’s hard to feel much empathy for an extremely talented OSU squad that thumped its chest and even pranced around the base paths to taunt their opponents throughout the tournament.
Arkansas pitcher Connor Noland said prior to the start of the tournament that the Hogs would enjoy “wearing the black hat” at the regional as a visiting squad, but ironically, the Cowboys came off more like the villain in their home regional when their animated style that might fit better in the ’rasslin’ ring than the baseball diamond blew up in their face.
In the moment OSU’s antics and false bravado seems fun, but it rings fairly hollow in defeat.
As for the Hogs, what a great rebound from a tough final few weeks to the regular season and their 0-2 performance at the SEC Tournament.
Maybe a little rest is exactly what Arkansas needed to right their ship for NCAA play.
Now, for the Hogs it’s on to Chapel Hill as one of five SEC teams — Tennessee, Texas A&M, Auburn, and Ole Miss — to advance to the Super Regionals. We’ll see what the Razorbacks can do against the ACC champions.
Results from Stillwater, Oklahoma, Regional: June 3-6
- Arkansas 7, Grand Canyon 1
- Oklahoma State 10, Missouri State 5
- Missouri State 8, Grand Canyon 7 (Grand Canyon eliminated)
- Arkansas 20, Oklahoma State 12
- Oklahoma State 29, Missouri State 15 (Missouri State eliminated)
- Oklahoma State 14, Arkansas 10
- Arkansas 7, Oklahoma State 3
- Arkansas advances to Super Regionals
Results from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Regional: June 3-6
- North Carolina 15, Hofstra 4
- VCU 8, Georgia 1
- Georgia 24, Hofstra 1 (Hofstra eliminated)
- VCU 4, North Carolina 3
- North Carolina 6, Georgia 5 (UGA eliminated)
- North Carolina 19, VCU 8
- North Carolina 7, VCU 3
- North Carolina advances to Super Regionals