OMAHA, Neb. – The key ingredient to the successful run of Arkansas this postseason has been no secret.
Pitching, pitching and well, pitching.
For a team that hit just .214 and scored just 30 runs in their 10 NCAA tournament games, the Razorbacks have needed great performances on the mound nearly every single night. Especially when eight of those runs came in their first College World Series game against Kent State.
So while the bats hadn’t done much, it was those arms that carried them this far. Arkansas was attempting to become the first team since Arizona State in 1972 to allow two runs or fewer in its first four games of a CWS.
And while the staff put up a 1.78 postseason ERA coming into Friday’s game against South Carolina, it finally sprung a leak — at the worst time. Nine walks against the Gamecocks did them in — the most walks in a CWS game since June 18, 2009, when North Carolina pitchers walked 10 Arizona State batters. Two of the walks Friday night proved to be extremely costly.
In the fifth inning, Arkansas starting pitcher DJ Baxendale walked in the tying run. Then in the seventh, reliever Barrett Astin did the same to score the eventual winning run. Those two bases-loaded walks were the difference between the Razorbacks advancing to the CWS Championship Series and heading home.
“We knew coming into the season that we had a pretty good pitching staff,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We had a little depth and we were going to have a very good bullpen. Hats off to the pitchers.”
It was a complete aberration from an Arkansas bullpen that hadn’t allowed a run in its last 26.0 innings of work. And Baxendale picked the wrong time to walk a career-high five batters.
In the end, the Razorbacks allowed only three runs. But it’s the base on balls that will haunt this Razorbacks team until the first pitch of the 2013 season. Sometimes baseball just isn’t fair.
SEEING A LEGEND … AGAIN: With South Carolina’s win Friday, it guarantees Omaha another start by Michael Roth.
What can he do for an encore?
We’ll find out against Arizona in the CWS Championship Series. The lefty already owns the all-time CWS record for innings pitched (53.2) and is just the fourth pitcher in CWS history throw a complete game with two or fewer hits allowed and no walks after his performance against Kent State on Wednesday.
His head coach couldn’t be happier about getting to see seeing No. 29 on the mound again.
“It seems like the last few weeks when [Roth] goes out there, this could be the last one kind of thing,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “And now we may get a chance to see him again. That brings a smile to my face and these guys as well, get a chance to run them back out there one more time.”
No matter what happens in his start against the Wildcats, one thing’s for sure — it will be Roth’s eighth College World Series start of his career, which will break the all-time record.
And following Matt Price’s win in relief on Friday to give him five in his CWS career, Roth now has some catching up to do. He’ll need a win to move into a tie with his fellow senior at the top of the all-time CWS wins list.
The way things have gone for Roth and the Gamecocks, they’ll find a way to do it. Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.
QUICK HITS: In the three-game regular-season series between Arkansas and South Carolina, the teams combined for 44 runs. In three CWS matchups, the teams managed only 10 runs. … The team to score first is now 10-3 at the 2012 CWS. All three comeback victories have been by South Carolina. … South Carolina has now won seven consecutive CWS elimination games dating back to 2010. … South Carolina has played in a school-record 28 one-run games this year, going 15-13 in those contests. … South Carolina’s Tyler Webb has not allowed a run in 14.1 innings at the CWS. Webb has held opponents to a .111 batting average, while allowing just five hits. This includes his 5.1-inning scoreless stint on Monday in South Carolina’s 2-1 loss to Arkansas and a four-inning effort in Friday’s win. Webb is the first pitcher to have two separate scoreless relief outings of 4.0 innings or more in a single CWS since 1997.