By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas ace righty Isaiah Campbell and TCU ace lefty Nick Lodolo both pitched superbly.
But Campbell also pitched efficiently. Campbell’s 4-hit, eight strikeouts vs one walk efficiency kept him in the game through eight innings and 108 pitches while Lodolo’s high pitch count ousted him from a 0-0 game before Arkansas scored three sixth-inning runs for an eventual 3-1 Fayetteville Regional winner’s bracket victory before a 10,614 packed house Saturday night at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Initiated by Heston Kjerstad’s leadoff single exiting Lodolo, the TCU certain to be a first-round League draft choice only allowed four hits but threw 93 pitches including four walks and a hit batsman, and umpteen pitches the Hogs fouled off.
Against reliever lefty reliever Haylen Green, Arkansas knocked in three on Casey Opitz’s bases-loaded 2-run single and a RBI double by Bryant native Trevor Ezell, 3 for 4 with three doubles, and game opening strikeout exasperating Lodolo.
A seventh inning run on Zach Humphrey’s sacrifice fly after Austin Henry’s double and Johnny Rizer’s sharply hit single were all the Horned Frogs mustered off Campbell before Arkansas closer Matt Cronin threw a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The victory puts Arkansas in tonight’s 8 p.m. championship game as the lone unbeaten in the 4-team double elimination tournament and awaiting today’s 2 p.m. loser’s bracket winner between TCU and the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, beaten 11-5 by Arkansas Friday afternoon.
If Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks lose tonight they would play tonight’s opponent in a winner take all championship game Monday striving to advance to one of eight best 2 of 3 Super Regionals determining the Elite Eight at the College World Series in Omaha.
Fourth-seed Central Connecticut advanced to today’s 2 p.m. loser’s bracket final by banishing from the tournament the second-seeded Pac 12 power California Golden Bears, 7-4 Saturday afternoon.
Friday night third-seeded TCU bludgeoned the Bears, 13-2.
Kjerstad singled Lodolo’s 93rd pitch of the game leading off the sixth.
That proved one pitch too many in TCU Coach Jim Schlossnagle’s view.
Lefty Haylen Green was summoned to face Jack Kenley. Kenley grounded to back to Green who threw to shortstop Adam Oviedo for the force.
“Out,” declared second base umpire Frank Sylvester.
“Not so fast,” Van Horn countered appealing for a review as Oviedo was seen dropping the ball upon Kjerstad’s arrival.
The review spotted Oviedo’s error. So runners were at first and second with none out.
Christian Franklin failed to bunt them over. TCU catcher Zach Humphreys made a great sliding catch near the screen of the fouled popped bunt. But Jacob Nesbit singled sharply to left loading the bases. Switch-hitting No. 9 hitting Optiz delivered the 2-run single up the middle.
“He threw me a slider that first pitch, so that next pitch, that 0-1 pitch, I was just looking for something near the zone, something I could hit hard,” Opitz said. “He gave me something and I did what I could with it.”
Though Nesbit was gunned down trying for third by center fielder John Rizer, the Hogs tallied one more. Ezell doubled to right scoring Opitz.
Other than left fielder Franklin’s great sliding catch in the second inning, TCU never came close to a hit until Oviedo’s 2-out single in the third.
Another single erased by a doubleplay in the fourth and and a sixth inning walk was it for the Horned Frogs until scoring in their seventh.
Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs pondered relieving Campbell starting until the big right-hander convinced them otherwise.
“Coach Hobbs and I were down there talking about it and the next thing you know Isaiah comes around the corner and says, ‘I’m good!” Van Horn said. “And just look at each other and we say, ‘OK, we’ll leave him in. Give Isaiah a lot of credit. A lot of times this season I’d take him out and explain we’re going to need that inning later. Tonight we needed that inning. And then Cronin came in and did a great job retiring their 2,3 and 4 guys in order. Just a great win for our team.”
Campbell was asked his version of settling the Van Horn-Hobbs confab.
“Like Coach Van Horn said, they were talking about it in the dugout, and I just came up to them and said, ‘I’m good,” Campbell said. “That was kind of the end of the discussion. They said, ‘Alright, you’ve got it.’
My mindset was just attack hitters like I’ve been doing all night.”
A base-running gaffe cost Arkansas a fourth-inning run. Lodola walked three and hit a batter during the 29-pitch inning led off by Matt Goodheart’s walk. Unfortunately for Arkansas, Goodheart ran more than halfway on Dominic Fletcher’s sinking liner to center and was doubled off by center fielder Rizer’s catch and throw all the way to first.
Two more walks and a hit batsman ran up Lodolo’s pitch count but the the lefty left’ em loaded striking out Nesbit.
Lodolo got tagged for Ezell’s 1-out double to center nearly caught by Rizer in the fifth. It also came to naught with Lodolo sandwiching strikeouts of Casey Martin and Fletcher around a Goodheart walk.
The next time the Hogs loaded the bases, Opitz and Ezell, after Opitz stole second, delivered them into the championship game.
Arkansas…000 003 000 – 3 9 0
TCU………000 000 100 – 1 4 1
Campbell, Cronin (9) and Optiz; Lodolo, Green (6), Coughlin (8), Mihlbauer (9) and Humphreys
W-Campbell (11-1). L-Lodolo (6-6).