Unusual suspects spark Hogs to win
Arkansas gets key hits, RBIs from unlikely faces to top Kent St.
OMAHA, Neb. -- It was not the usual suspects making headlines for Arkansas in the Razorbacks’ 8-1 victory against Kent State in Saturday afternoon’s College World Series contest.
Yes, the Razorbacks’ pitching was stellar, and their defense was stout, but it was an unlikely group of players that helped produced team’s most runs since May 19 against Tennessee.
Four players -- designated hitter Joe Serrano, right fielder Brian Anderson, center fielder Matt Vinson and catcher Jake Wise -- combined for eight of the Razorbacks’ 10 hits and all seven RBI against the Golden Flashes.
Serrano, Vinson and Anderson entered the game having contributed a combined 26 RBIs on the season. Neither Vinson nor Anderson drove in any runs in the first five NCAA tournament games, while Serrano had knocked in one. Wise’s solo home run to left field in the second inning was the Razorbacks’ first of the NCAA postseason, just his second round-tripper of the season, which gave the squad a lift after scoring just one run with the bases loaded in the first inning.
“It was big for our psyche, for our confidence,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said.
Arkansas’ leading hitter Matt Reynolds grounded into three double plays in the game, ending scoring opportunities for the Razorbacks in the third, fifth and seventh innings. The Razorbacks’ three and four-hole hitters Reynolds and Dominic Ficociello went 0-for-6 in the game.
“The end of the order -- they did a great job,” Van Horn said. “Our three and four-hole hitters didn’t get any hits, so somebody had to get it going. Serrano, Vinson and Wise and those guys produced, so that was a good sign.”
What impressed Kent State head coach Scott Stricklin was Arkansas’ approach at the plate, especially against a tough competitor like All-American pitcher David Starn (11-4, 2.48 ERA).
“They hit in some pretty positive counts,” Stricklin said. “Starn faced 26 batters, and only two of them swung at the first pitch. I think that was the key, they got ahead in the count. They had a plan to be patient.”
“We had a good plan against Starn,” Van Horn said. “We had a chance to see his videos, and he was really crafty, but that was the third pitcher with that style that we’ve seen in the last month, and we’ve done a good job with three in a row now. I was proud of our hitters … if it hadn’t been for double plays I think we could have got Starn out of the game early.”
Arkansas entered the CWS hitting just .211 in the NCAA postseason and scoring only 18 runs in the six-game stretch. It was only the second time in the last nine games the Razorbacks have posted double-digit hits.
“We had a lot of clutch hitting,” Van Horn said. “We did a good job of hitting with two outs and two strikes to keep adding to the lead.”
Serrano, a freshman, had made just 13 starts previous to Saturday. He has played in six of Arkansas’ seven NCAA tournament games, and is hitting .588 (10-for-17) after going 3-for-3 against the Golden Flashes.
“He’s an on-base type of guy … he knows his strike zone,” Van Horn said. “He’s been wearing out left-handed pitching lately and it is big part of us being here.”
After watching Arkansas in action, Stricklin believes the Razorbacks are a legitimate contender to win the NCAA title.
“If they keep up that approach at the plate -- they were tough outs [Saturday],” Stricklin said. “Starn is an All-American and has given people fits all year. They got on base, they worked counts, they were ahead in the count, they got clutch hits when they needed them … If they play like that they’ve got a chance to win a national championship. If they have that approach and play clean defense with that pitching, they can do it.”
“If you can get hot at the right time anything can happen,” Van Horn said.