Razorbacks need one more victory for their first national baseball title, Beavers must win tonight or settle for the runner-up spot
By Arnie Leshin
Arkansas did everything right, which is why Oregon State needs to win twice or its surge to the NCAA Division I World Series will end and the Razorbacks will win their first national baseball championship.
Whereas the Beavers (53-12-1) made some mistakes that proved costly in the 4-1 setback under clear skies Tuesday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., the Razorbacks did everything right, and that included pitching, hitting and fielding.
But for Oregon State, already surviving four elimination games, it was not its day. It instead belonged to the Hogs and their huge turnout.
Pitching? That was taken care of by undefeated starting right-hander Blaine Knight, who went six innings, struck out six, and allowed only the second inning run. Sparkling in relief were southpaws Barrett Loseke and Matt Cronin combining for three shutout frames and their SEC team had now won its last nine outings, and Knight in now unbeaten in 14 starts.
The Razorbacks (48-19) played errorless defense,although a fly ball to left was lost in the sun. Theywere alert on the bases, and left the Beavers with the miscues. One was not an error, but it was a double play called for interference by base runner Adley Rutschman with one out and two on.
That left them with a runner on third and two out. Knight struck out the next batter and left Oregon State with a threat cancelled by the interference call.
Beavers’ head coach Pat Casey didn’t like the interference call, but his runner didn’t slide, instead going out of the baseline to push shortstop Jax Biggers, who managed to get the throw away and it was ruled a twin killing thanks to Knight reaching for the throw and beating the runner to the base.
In the top of the fifth, Oregon State lefty starter Luke Heimrlch’s solid hurling went cold. He issued a walk, hit two batters in a row, and got a bad break when, with the bags full, second baseman Nick Madrigal fumbled the grounder, which was followed by a pair of run-scoring hits, Heimlich was gone, and it was now 4-1 Arkansas.
In the field, one of the more sparkling plays came in the seventh when Michael Gretler singled to left, took off for second, and Heston Kjerstad fired a strike on the fly to Carson Shaddy, and that spoiled another possible threat as Knight fanned the next hitter and Dominic Fletcher took care of the fly ball hit to centerfield.
The Beavers, on a four-game win streak, did get a call overturned in the sixth, but left two runners aboard. A ball that apparently touched the first base line chalk was initially ruled foul, but when it was changed to a hit, it put runners on first and third, with two down, but Madrigal lined into a right field out.
It was a rained out postponed game one that seemed to have a little bit of everything. The forecast for Omaha tonight calls for partly cloudy skies.
Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn will send left-handed junior Kacey Murphy (8-5) (3.15 ERA) to the hill and Casey counters with junior righty Bryce Fehmel (10-1) (3.16 ERA).
As for Heimlich, he was so good and quickly so bad. Prior to the four-run fifth, he had struck out five Hogs and limited them to but one hit through four frames. Then it came apart as his record dropped to 16-3.
While the Beavers won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, the Hogs hadn’t gotten this far since losing the one-game format to UCLA in 1979 at Rosenblatt Stadium. That’s a draught of 39 years for the program.
Arkansas is one win away from its first NCAA championship in baseball, and Oregon State’s task is to extend the best-of-3 World Series to one more game.
The capacity crowd was announced at 20,480, and the same is expected tonight. Rain is the only threat.