Today's Paper Latest Coronavirus Tokyo Olympics The Article Core Values iPad Weather Story ideas Archive Puzzles Obits Newsletters
ADVERTISEMENT

OPINION | WALLY HALL: T-shirts don't fit quite yet for Razorbacks

by Wally Hall | June 13, 2021 at 3:13 a.m.

Friday night, the Arkansas Razorbacks -- the No. 1 ranked team in the country with a 50-11 record -- looked like they could order a new batch of OmaHog T-shirts.

They romped North Carolina State 21-2 on 17 hits and great pitching.

Then Saturday happened.

Just one win away from booking their hotel in Omaha, the Hogs needed just half of Friday's performance to secure another trip to the College World Series.

Instead, North Carolina State -- known for its hitting, not its pitching -- switched roles on the Razorbacks to build a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning before adding what proved to be a pivotal insurance run in the sixth.

The Razorbacks, who have come back late to win umpteen games this season, did put a scare in the Wolfpack in the seventh by scoring three runs, with one unearned after a rare throwing error by N.C. State shortstop Jose Torres. The Hogs went into the last two innings down 6-5.

They couldn't manage a hit the rest of the way against relief pitcher Evan Justice, and now they have a must-win game today at home.

It was fair to fear the Razorbacks used up too many hits on Friday night. Out of their 17, 10 were produced by the bottom four batters in the lineup.

The Wolfpack took a 1-0 lead Friday before falling behind 3-1, then 7-1, 10-1, 16-1 and 21-1 before N.C. State scored a run in the top of the ninth.

Saturday featured the same players and the same bats, but it seemed like the Razorbacks should have bought new bats. The ones they had from Friday were out of hits.

The game was clearly won by the Wolfpack.

The Razorbacks not only managed just four hits, they only left two on base and suffered nine strikeouts.

However, this is a team that hasn't backed up after a loss this season.

The Hogs, winner of the SEC regular-season and tournament championships, was not beaten by an opponent in a three-game series all year, and this is a league that put six teams into super regionals.

Dave Van Horn doesn't appear to know how to panic.

He's described as mostly stoic, but his brain is constantly computing averages during a baseball game. On Saturday, he did what he could to rally his troops.

Yet, he said after the win on Friday it wouldn't surprise him if it went to a third game.

North Carolina State is that good, especially offensively. In the rematch, the Wolfpack got pitching, too.

Starter Sam Highfill, who had an ERA above 4 this season, allowed just 2 hits in his 6 1/3 innings while striking out 5.

Justice, who had struck out 60 batters in 50 innings this season, walked none and struck out 4.

The Wolfpack had just eight hits, but three were home runs.

It was a bit surprising the Razorbacks didn't mount more of a challenge the last two innings after keeping the Wolfpack defense on the field for about 20 minutes in the seventh inning.

The temperature was 92, and any breeze was more of a whisper at 4 mph.

Yet Justice's 90-plus mph fastball seemed to overwhelm the Hogs.

Although Arkansas missed a chance to get a head start on the College World Series, this team doesn't seem to get too down or too high.

That is part of the reason the Razorbacks have made this an unforgettable season, regardless of what happens today. Neither team can be counted out because both are well-coached and can hit for power.

It isn't the first time a team romped and then came up cold, and it won't be the last.

But the Razorbacks have Baum-Walker Stadium and a history of ending up on the right side of these games this season.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsor Content

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT