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Mike Lopresti | | June 22, 2018

Arkansas clubs its way to the verge of College World Series finals

Fayetteville's finest, Carson Shaddy

OMAHA, Neb. — Some days, they are the Big Gray Machine. Others, the Big Cream Machine. Depends on the jersey color the Arkansas Razorbacks are wearing, while they’re pounding yet another pitching staff. What they don’t have are their reds or whites, because someone on the road tossed those in the laundry together and everything came out pink.

And you can’t wear pink, even with an NCAA tournament team batting average of .332.

But that’s about the only thing that has gone wrong lately. The Razorbacks clubbed another opponent Wednesday — Texas Tech, 7-4 — to stay in the winner’s bracket of the College World Series. They are now one win from the championship series, and if anyone is going to stop them, they’re better come up with a way to unplug their offense. Their victims understand how hard that is to do at the moment.

“It’s an impressive lineup,” Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said Wednesday after looking down the business end of the Arkansas bats. “Seems to me when you miss, they’re doing a good job hitting it. One through 9, they can create pressure on you. There’s not an easy out in there.”

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Consider Arkansas’ recent carnage.

The 14-4 thrashing of South Carolina to win the super regional, when the Razorbacks had five runs after only six batters.

The 11-5 mashing of Texas here Sunday, which included sending 14 hitters to the plate in an eight-run sixth inning.

Arkansas advances past down Texas, 11-5
And then Wednesday, when they waited 3 ½ hours to play because of weather, and then in the first four innings had two homers, two doubles and five runs.

In their last three postseason games, they have outscored their opponents 8-0 in the first inning. For the NCAA tournament, they are hitting .332 and with a scoring differential of 70-31. In two College World Series games, eight different Razorbacks have already driven in runs.

“You can win games in a lot of way,” second baseman Carson Shaddy said. “That’s one way we’ve been doing it.”

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This is not exactly out of character for a team that is seventh in the nation in slugging percentage, 11th in batting average and 15th in runs per game and on-base percentage. The signs were there early. Go back to February when Arkansas opened the season against Bucknell. The first gamed ended 14-2. The second game ended 32-4. 

The leadoff man to this fireworks show, Eric Cole, sat by his locker after Wednesday’s game and tried to describe what the Razorbacks have been up to. The quick starts, for instance.

“It’s huge, especially for the starting pitcher. It takes a lot of pressure off them, and honestly kind of takes the pressure of us. That first run of the game is the hardest run to score. Everyone’s looking at you, waiting for you to score that run.”

So how are they doing it?

“I really think it’s a group of guys going out there looking for the same thing. Draft day is over, school’s over, everything’s over except for this. We’re all in it for a national championship. No one has the draft in the back of their head, no one has stats in their back of their head, everyone’s going out there trying to compete for the guys behind them and the guys on the bench. It’s finally clicking what we thought we had all year. It’s a really fun lineup to be a part of, and it’s a really hard lineup to pitch to when we’re on like this.”

It could be any Hog doing the damage on any night. Clearly, hitting has become more contagious in the batting order than chicken pox.

From Jared Gates, who homered Wednesday: “We kind of feed off each other. It’s good to have good hitters all around you.”

MORE: The College World Series champions almost no one saw coming

Wednesday’s wrecking ball was Dominic Fletcher; four hits, four RBIs, a homer that left a vapor trail. “You see guys around you doing well, you want to do well. It’s kind of a competitive thing between all of us.”

Which is not good news for the people trying to get them out.

“Somebody gets a hit and then the next guy gets a hit and you can kind of feel that the pitcher’s getting nervous, the pitcher doesn’t want to make a mistake,” Fletcher said. “And that’s when they make a mistake and leave pitches over the middle of the plate, and we hammer them.”

Fletcher has six hits and six RBIs in two World Series games.

“What I saw from him at the beginning of the spring is he was trying to hit the ball 500 feet,” coach Dave Van Horn said. “I will tell you the very first weekend in a three-game series, I bet he hit seven balls 390 foul, and then he didn’t do anything. He was pulling off, trying to do too much.

"Then he slowly climbs out of it.”

And now he’s the beast of Omaha.

“Just sticking with the approach,” he said. “Mostly just being relaxed and not trying to do too much.”

Sounds simple. Not that simple to pitch to him. Not that simple to pitch to any of the Razorbacks. They’d even be scary in pink.

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