OMAHA, Neb. - Arkansas only scored 18 runs in the NCAA Tournament' Regional and Super Regional rounds, but the Razorbacks had no shortage of runs in the opening round of the College World Series as they defeated Kent State 8-1 Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park.
Arkansas catcher Jake Wise drove in three runs in the win. The sophomore hit a two-out, solo home run in the second inning and a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth to add to Arkansas’ three-run inning and extend the Razorbacks lead to 8-1.
Kent State starter David Starn had a rough outing on the mound for the Golden Flashes. The senior southpaw walked three of the first four batters he faced and Brian Anderson lined a RBI single off of his glove to give Arkansas a 1-0 lead in the opening inning. Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said Arkansas used an impressive approach at the plate to earn a spot in the winner’s bracket.
“David had faced 26 batters and they had only swung at the first pitch twice,” Stricklin said. “They had the plan to be patient and make David throw strikes. David gets a lot of swings and misses on first pitches, but they had a really good scouting report and made sure David threw strikes and if he didn’t they took it.
“Their approach was really good today and that was the key.”
The eighth-year Kent State coach also said that the Razorbacks’ patience in combination with the qualities that got them to Omaha could make Arkansas one of the toughest opponents for any team in the College World Series.
“Pitching is what got them here, but with that approach, that’s a tough out,” Stricklin said. "They worked counts, got ahead in the count, got clutch hits when they needed them and played clean defensively.
“If they play like that, they have a shot at the national championship.”
In addition to Wise’s three RBIs, the Houston native also scored on a two-out, two-run double by Matt Vinson in the sixth inning. Vinson and Wise hit eighth and ninth in the Arkansas batting order, but provided a few critical hits against the Golden Flashes (46-19).
“Give credit to the hitters. I thought Coach Butler did a great job of breaking down some video, discussing with our hitters and analyzing everything,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “They worked on it in practice and worked on it in pre-game again today.
“The end of the order did a great job. You think about it and our three and four-hole hitters (Matt Reynolds and Dominic Ficociello) didn’t get a hit today and we scored eight runs.”
Starn (11-4) took just his fourth loss of the season by allowing five runs on six hits and walking six batters in 5 2/3 innings of work.
Starn’s counterpart, Arkansas starter DJ Baxendale bounced back from his loss against Baylor in the Waco Super Regional, in which he allowed 5 runs, with a quality start against the Golden Flashes.
“Against Baylor, I felt like I had let the team down, but to come out here on this stage and be able to get us through game one with the victory was huge not only for my confidence, but the team as well,” Baxendale said. “We know any time you can win the first game, you can build off of that.”
The Minnesota Twins draftee, who tied a school record 19 starts as a Razorback, earned his eighth win of the season by allowing just one run on three hits and striking out five batters in 6 1/3 innings of work.
“DJ Baxendale was outstanding,” Stricklin said. “He kept us off-balance, his fastball was sharp, he was able to throw his breaking ball behind in the count and from knowing him this summer, I knew that he really competes. When you compete like that and you have great stuff, it’s really difficult to hit.
“He was the reason we struggled, no doubt about it.”
Arkansas (45-20) will play South Carolina (46-17) at 8 p.m. on Monday. Ryne Stanek (7-4, 2.91 ERA) will take the mound for the Razorbacks and junior right-hander Colby Holmes will get the nod for the Gamecocks.
“If you get hot at the right time, anything can happen,” Van Horn said. “We’re here, so we’re just going to play them, so cliché, but one game at a time and see what happens.”
Jake Wise watches a second inning homer head for the wall.
The Arkansas dugout was on the top step.
Dave Van Horn makes the call to the bullpen.
Kent State coach Scott Stricklin wasn't happy with the work of the umpires.
Marc F. Henning Photo