Cody Scroggins delivers in biggest game of the season
HawgBeat's coverage of the Razorbacks' Road to Redemption in Omaha is brought to you by Arkansas Oral Surgery, which has offices located in Conway and Russellville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Ole Miss had Arkansas on the ropes early Monday afternoon, leading by one and facing a reeling freshman pitcher, when Dave Van Horn made the bold decision to turn to his bullpen in the second inning.
Had it been a regular-season game, starter Patrick Wicklander likely would have been asked to go deeper than 1 2/3 innings and fight through the jam. It was a winner-take-all Game 3 in the Fayetteville Super Regional, though, so the veteran coach opted to piece together the final 22 outs with relievers.
Enter redshirt junior Cody Scroggins.
“As offensive as Ole Miss is, we didn’t want this thing to get crazy - the wind is blowing out to right, they have all these left-handed hitters with power,” Van Horn said. “We had four or five guys circled on the lineup card that we were going to go to and Cody was the guy that we were going to go to first for longer relief.”
Ryan Olenek, one of the Rebels’ best hitters with a .329 batting average, was at the plate with a 2-1 count and a wild pitch had just moved runners to second and third. A hit scores two and puts the Razorbacks in a three-run hole.
The tension was palpable inside Baum-Walker Stadium as 10,000-plus fans watched Scroggins warm up with catcher Casey Opitz.
“I knew he was ready for that kind of moment,” Opitz said. “I could tell from him warming up that he had his stuff (today) and he was going to be something special.”
A long, winding journey led to that point. Recruited as an infielder from Bentonville and converted to a pitcher only to have to battle back from Tommy John surgery, Scroggins needed to get the Razorbacks out of trouble and then give them several innings before handing off the baton to the back end of the bullpen.
“Pitching was depleted, so I just kind of knew all hands on deck when I was getting warmed up,” Scroggins said. “I knew it was my time.”
Olenek fouled off three of Scroggins’ first four pitches until he finally - with a full count - swung and missed at a fastball to end the threat.
The crowd erupted as he walked off the field with confidence, having swung the momentum back to his side.
“Usually I struggle with my fastball with righties, and to strike out a righty with my fastball gave my confidence a really big boost,” Scroggins said. “Going into the next inning I felt great.”
After his offense put up four runs in the bottom of the second, Scroggins came back out and got Cole Zabowski to ground out sandwiched between Grae Kessinger and Cooper Johnson looking at strike three.
By the time he got into his second inning, the right-hander knew he had control of all three of his pitches - fastball, slider and changeup - to both right- and left-handed batters. The result 4 1/3 scoreless innings on 67 pitches, helping Arkansas cruise to a 14-1 win that clinched it a spot in the College World Series.
Scroggins struck out half of the batters he faced - eight of 16 - and allowed only three base runners, giving up two singles and a hit by pitch.
“Just an electric fastball and he’d come with a 4-seam and a 2-seam he splits half and half, (with) a little bit of a speed difference,” said Johnson, Ole Miss’ second-team All-SEC catcher. “The 4-seam has a ton of ride on it and the 2-seam runs and he’s got pretty good location, and obviously the slider is pretty good.”
It was his longest outing since throwing five innings at Alabama on March 24 and nearly two innings longer than any of his appearances since returning last month from a two-week absence caused by arm soreness.
Even after he came back, Scroggins couldn’t quite shake a sore bicep.
“He could never really get it right,” Van Horn said. “He felt really good (today). They’d been building up his bullpens, throwing more pitches in his bullpens, where we felt like we could get maybe 70 pitches out of him.”
Van Horn said he and pitching coach Matt Hobbs considered sending him back out in the seventh inning, but the Razorbacks tacked on five more runs in the bottom of the sixth. With a 13-run lead, they opted to let Jacob Kostyshock and Matt Cronin close it out.
Monday’s performance showed why the Red Sox took him in the ninth round of last week’s MLB Draft and - as Van Horn put it - he “could pitch for a long time.”
“Cody goes out throwing the ball really well and then he did it again and again and again,” Van Horn said. “I mean, Cody was the MVP of the game. Without him, we might not win that game. That was an incredible, gutsy outing.”