By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas led 3-0, trailed, 4-3, tied it 4-4 then lost 5-4 its topsy-turvy College World Series loser’s bracket game to the Texas Tech Raiders Monday afternoon at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Monday’s loss, coupled with Arkansas’ 1-0 CWS first-round loss Saturday night to the Florida State Seminoles, ends the season at 46-20 for Coach Dave Van Horn’s SEC West co-champion Razorbacks making Arkansas’ first back to back College World Series appearances among the 10 CWS trips to in UA history.
Cody Master’s 2-out eighth-inning triple off the right-field wall scoring lumbering but breaking on the pitch Red Raider Cameron Warren off losing reliever Cody Scroggins irrevocably broke a 4-4 tie.
Arkansas threatened in the ninth. Tech reliever John McMillion, the third of four Red Raiders pitchers and ultimately the winner, hit 8-hole hitter Jacob Nesbit with a 2-0 pitch leading off.
Texas Tech Coach Tim Tadlock summoned reliever Taylor Floyd. Eschewing the expected sacrifice bunt, freshman 9-hole hitter Christian Franklin singled to right putting runners at first and second.
Trevor Ezell, Arkansas’ hottest hitter during its Fayetteville Regional and Super Regional runs advancing the Razorbacks to Omaha, was given the opportunity to drive in the tying run rather than sac bunt, but popped up to the shortstop.
Casey Martin, tripling home Franklin then scoring on Matt Goodheart’s infield single in Arkansas’ 2-run third, in the ninth struck out for the third time Monday. Goodheart’s fly to left ended it all for a Razorbacks team that was the national runner-up in 2018.
“Floyd came in and did a great job,” Van Horn said. “He had an opportunity to let that thing slip away, and he didn’t. I think they thought we were bunting with Franklin. We weren’t. And I just wanted to see if we could draw them in a little bit and maybe he could slap the ball by him, and it worked. Then Ezell one of our best hitters, had an option to bunt for a hit if they stayed back. If they were up I wanted him to swing. Looking back at it, I wish he would have hit the first pitch. It was maybe a ball low but it was probably the only fastball he got, and the third baseman is way up and (first baseman) Warren is way up, and they started backing up a little bit. But I just didn’t feel good about bunting one of my best hitters with first base open, then they’d have an option to either walk Casey, set up a double play, or the other thing is there’s a lot of swing-and-miss there in the 2-hole, and I just felt like that the key at-bat was going to be Trevor. Trevor needed to hopefully advance and maybe drive them in, and he made some really good pitches to Trevor. You know, but it was looking good, but you’ve got to get them over and in, and we didn’t.”
Behind freshman starter Connor Noland of Greenwood the Razorbacks Monday built a 3-0 lead through three innings against Tech starter Caleb Kilian.
Scoreless for 23 consecutive CWS innings dating back to its consecutive CWS championship losses to Oregon State last year and plus last Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Florida State, Arkansas snapped the skid on Heston Kjerstad’s first 1-out solo homer run in Monday’s second inning.
The Franklin 1-out double in the third followed by 2-out Martin’s drive that Tech left fielder Kurt Wilson gambled and lost as the ball skipped by allowing Martin to go all the way third then core when Goodheart beat out a single to deep short.
Kilian righted the Tech ship to throw shutout ball his remaining innings through the seventh with nine strikeouts against a walk and six hits.
“Give credit to Kilian,” Van Horn said. “I thought he did a good job of battling and finding a way to get through some innings. Kept eating up innings. I think one time maybe Coach Tadlock might have been going out there to take him out, at least that’s what it looked like and he promptly got another out, and got them through that inning and gave his bullpen a chance to rest a little bit more.”
Meanwhile Red Raiders Warren, Easton Murrell, a Razorback last year transferred last summer to Tech, and Josh Jung would hit three home runs in three consecutive innings.
Noland, whom Van Horn hoped to get anything from three to five innings, shut out the Red Raiders for the first three going into Brian Klein leading off the Tech fourth. Jung rapped a possible doubleplay grounder that shortstop Martin bobbled compelling him to settle for a forceout at second but no time for second baseman Jack Kenley to attempt throwing on to first.
So Jung was aboard when Warren swung his 230-plus pounds into a Noland hanging curve for a 421-foot 2-run homer over left.
So Van Horn, who has relied all season on middle relievers Kevin Kopps, Jacob Kostyshock and Scroggins as buffers to closer Matt Cronin, brought Kopps in to start the fifth with a 3-2 lead.
Murrell, 1 for 8 as a seldom used Razorbacks freshman last season, and a reserve with Tech but starting at third base Monday with Tadlock shuffling his infield minus injured regular shortstop Gabe Holt, hit the first home run of his college career on a 2-out Kopps pitch tying it 3-3 in the fifth.
Jung’s leadoff home run off Kopps gave Tech its first lead, 4-3.
Kilian had stranded runners at first and second ending Arkansas’ 2-run third and stranded Martin at second after Martin’s 2-out double in the fifth and stranded Razorbacks at first in the sixth and seventh before turning it over to lefty Dane Haveman starting the eighth with left-handed Razorbacks Goodheart, Dominic Fletcher Kjerstad, and Jack Kenley the next batters.
Goodheart grounded out but Fletcher walked and Kjerstad singled him to third. Out came Haveman and in came McMillon and his fast ball that reportedly has been clocked at 100 mph.
Kenley, on a 9-pitch at bat including a foul fly in left that the Red Raiders didn’t catch as Fletcher likely would have tagged and scored, finally was Kenley touched for the fair ball sac fly to left tallying Fletcher.
Catcher Casey Opitz, 0 for 4 at the plate but superb behind it gunning down both Red Raiders trying to steal, struck out stranding Kjerstad who had advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Scroggins, the tough luck loser to Florida State in the ninth though not giving up a hit relieving in Saturday’s eighth after Saturday starter Isaiah Campbell’s magnificent seven shutout innings, relieved Jacob Kostyshock during Monday’s eighth.
Kostyshock had successfully relieved Kopps with one out and one on in the seventh but was clipped for Brian Klein’s single leading off the eighth.
Scroggins got help from Opitz throwing out Jung trying to steal then struck out Jung. Scroggins pitched carefully to and ended up walking Warren who had hit his 18th earlier.
Masters, 0 for 3, then hit the triple to right arriving at third about as quickly as Warren with an off and running head start would score the game-winner.
“Well, obviously it was a tough loss,” Van Horn said. “Pretty well-played game by both teams. For the most part, there really wasn’t too many mistakes. Just kind of who got the big hit and who didn’t.”
While the Razorbacks’ vow of “unfinished business” got finished two and through, Van Horn put perspective on a SEC West co-champion ending the season in Omaha as a No. 5 national seed despite losing its top two starting starting pitchers and returning only three regular starting position players from last year’s national runner-up.
“It was a good year,” Van Horn said. “I know there’s a lot of people back home disappointed, but probably like me, if they just take a step back and take a breath and kind of realize what we replaced and how we did after we replaced all those players, it was a pretty good year.”
As the Razorbacks’ year end, Texas Tech, beaten by Arkansas during last year’s CWS, plays on Wednesday night in Omaha vs. the loser of Monday night’s winner’s bracket game between Florida State and Michigan.
Arkansas……012 000 010 – 4 9 0
Texas Tech…000 211 01x – 5 9 0
Noland, Kopps (5), Kostyshock (7), Scroggins (8) and Opitz; Kilian, Haveman (8), McMillon (8), Floyd (9) and Marusak.
W-McMillon, 4-3. L-Scroggins (3-2).
HR-Arkansas: Kjerstad (17). HR-Texas Tech: Warren (18). Murrell (1). Jung (15).