OMAHA, Neb. - Arkansas junior left-hander Dallas Keuchel wasn’t perfect Saturday afternoon. But he was certainly competent, and that’s all the Razorbacks needed in their 10-6 College World Series-opening victory over Cal State Fullerton.
Keuchel gave up four runs on five hits in six innings and struck out only two at Rosenblatt Stadium. The seventh-round draft pick of the Houston Astros walked just one batter, though.
“Dallas was really peppering the zone early,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.
Keuchel, who moved to 8-3 this season, capitalized on the Razorbacks staking him to an early lead, retiring six of Cal State Fullerton’s first seven batters. He has experienced trouble lately with getting off to quality starts.
But he didn’t struggle in the first two innings Saturday. Keuchel needed only eight pitches to put Fullerton down in order in the first and allowed only a one-out bloop single to right by Khris Davis in the second.
He carried a 9-2 lead into the fifth, but he allowed three consecutive singles. Joey Siddons’ high-chopper over Zack Cox scored Shevis Shima and brought pitching coach Dave Jorn to the mound. Keuchel minimized the damage, however, giving up only one more run on a sacrifice fly.
Van Horn removed Keuchel after the sixth because of back stiffness.
“(It started hurting) about the fifth inning, but just a little bit,” Keuchel said. “I told the coaches it was tight. It’s feeling better now.”
Cal State Fullerton freshman right-hander Noe Ramirez didn’t appear comfortable from the beginning of his start Saturday and didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. Titans coach Dave Serrano took a chance starting Ramirez instead of staff ace sophomore Daniel Renken, and the move backfired.
Ramirez had his shortest career start — 3 2/3 innings — and gave up a career-high seven runs on five hits. He also walked three and hit a batter.
An early sign that Ramirez suffered from nerves: During Arkansas’ first two at-bats, three different players — Fullerton’s catcher, first baseman and third baseman — went to the mound to calm Ramirez.
“Noe’s performance, and I think he’d probably agreed with me, was probably a D-minus,” Serrano said. “When he gets excited, he loses his mechanics, and I think his problems were more mechanical than mental.”
All the hits first baseman Andy Wilkins has recorded during the NCAA Tournament must be clouding his memory.
After his 2-for-3 performance Saturday with five RBI, Wilkins was asked about his fourth-inning at-bat that resulted in a three-run home run. Wilkins said a few words, describing his mindset against new Fullerton pitcher Tyler Pill before getting a bit confused.
“I can’t even remember what happened when that pitcher came in,” Wilkins said.
A reporter reminded him, saying Wilkins had homered to put Arkansas up 9-2.
“Oh yeah,” Wilkins said. “That shows how much I remember things.”
Van Horn then chuckled and interrupted his sophomore slugger.
“The first pitch was a fastball, the second pitch was a changeup, and you hit it in the seats,” Van Horn said.
Wilkins now has 16 hits in 27 NCAA Tournament at-bats (.593) with four homers and 17 RBI.
Finally A CWS Win
After six unsuccessful tries at Nebraska and Arkansas, Van Horn won a CWS game in Omaha. Van Horn brushed off the significance at first, commenting that “it’s really not about me.”
He then admitted the first victory would have an impact, however.
“I’m glad it’s over with,” Van Horn said. “Obviously, I have a College World Series winning percentage now (.143). But I just want these guys to win. I am happy it’s over with. Hopefully we’ll never talk about it again.”
Cox said getting Van Horn’s first victory didn’t even cross the players’ minds.
“As a team, we never talked about it,” Cox said. “The first I heard about it was from a reporter back home, and it kind of threw me off guard. But we didn’t think about that. We were focused on Cal State (Fullerton) and coming out and getting the first win here.
“The first win’s always big.”
Hog Web Gems
In the third, freshman second baseman Bo Bigham made a fantastic diving stop on a sharp Joey Siddons grounder headed toward right field. Bigham scrambled to his feet and hurried a throw to senior shortstop Ben Tschepikow to force Joe Scott out at second for CSF’s first out of the third.
The Titans still scored two runs in the inning, but they could’ve scored plenty more had Bigham not halted their momentum.
Then, in the seventh, Cox charged in on Shevis Shima’s bunt down the third-base line and fielded the ball with his bare hand on the run. He threw to first and got Shima by two steps for the first out of the frame.
“I thought we played really well in the field,” Van Horn said. “(Bo and Zack’s) plays were big for us.”
Arkansas catcher James McCann will do anything to get on base, obviously. With one out in the second, McCann stuck out his left elbow to let a Ramirez pitch plunk him. McCann quickly dropped the bat and sprinted toward first.
He only got a few steps down the line before home plate umpire Perry Costello called him back, saying McCann moved his elbow into the path of the pitch. McCann hit the ball hard on the next pitch but lined out to the warning track in deep left-center.
The same situation occurred in the eighth, this time with Cal State Fullerton’s Gary Brown with no outs and a runner on second. Serrano came out to argue that Brown should be awarded first, but Costello adamantly disagreed.
Brown went on to walk, but he didn’t score.
Sticking With Plan
Cal State Fullerton quickly fell behind 4-0 Saturday, but Serrano didn’t abandon his game plan. The Titans are a contact hitting team that likes to bunt, steal and hit-and-run, and they kept competing that way, despite trailing the entire afternoon.
The Titans executed a perfect double steal in the third with Siddons taking third and Christian Colon taking second. Brown’s sacrifice fly brought Siddons home for the Titans’ first run, and Colon scored on Andy Wilkins’ two-out error to cut Arkansas’ lead to 4-2.
Serrano called for a sacrifice bunt by Colon, Fullerton’s leadoff hitter, with no outs, two runners on and the Titans trailing 9-3 in the fifth. Cox’s play on Shima’s bunt came with no outs in the seventh.
“We’re still going to play our game,” Serrano said. “We’re always going to try to execute and manufacture some runs. Little things lead to big things.”
Bolsinger In Relief
Junior right-hander Mike Bolsinger allowed two runs (one earned) in three innings of relief after three straight scoreless appearances. CSF loaded the bases with no outs against Bolsinger in the eighth. He then struck out Jared Clark on a 2-2 fastball and gave up a run on a Tschepikow error.
But Bolsinger, who earned his second save, escaped further trouble by inducing a double play grounder from Dustin Garneau. Colon hit a two-out RBI single off Bolsinger in the ninth.
Guess who sat in one of the boxes next to the Rosenblatt Stadium press box? None other than Dana Altman, the Creighton basketball coach who held that title at Arkansas for about 26 hours in April 2007 before heading back home to Omaha.
Altman wasn’t seen doing any Hog calling Saturday. He’s still only done it once then, during that extremely uncomfortable news conference introducing him in Fayetteville.
Senior right fielder Andrew Darr reached base in all three of his plate appearances Saturday, meaning he’s reached seven of his last eight times up. After his 4-for-5 day at Florida State the Saturday before, Darr was plunked in the second, walked in the fourth and singled in the fifth. Freshman Collin Kuhn replaced Darr in the eighth. ... Wilkins’ fourth-inning home run was his 19th this season. That tied him for fourth on Arkansas’ all-time, single-season homer list with Ryan Fox (2003). ... Wilkins committed his first error in 52 games, a third-inning error that let CSF score its second run.
— Ryan Malashock