CWS Notebook: FSU starting a lefty, familiar face at Texas Tech, more
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.
OMAHA, Neb. — Another talented left-hander stands in the way of Arkansas and the winner’s bracket at the College World Series.
The Razorbacks found a way to beat TCU’s Nick Lodolo, the No. 7 overall pick in last week’s MLB Draft, in the Fayetteville Regional and will now have to figure out how to get by Florida State’s Drew Parrish.
Although he went more than 200 picks later and hasn’t put up nearly the same statistics as Lodolo this year, Parrish is still the kind of pitcher who has given Arkansas fits this season. The Razorbacks have one of the best lineups in the country, but hit 53 points lower against left-handers than right-handers (.267 vs. .320).
“He’s a young man that has a fastball in the low 90s, a very good curveball and a very good changeup,” Florida State head coach Mike Martin said. “He mixes the pitches very well, he fields his position well, he is a complete pitcher and we’re very fortunate to have him on our team.”
Parrish’s 5.11 ERA doesn’t scream “Friday night starter,” as that is much worse than Arkansas’ Isaiah Campbell (2.26), Michigan’s Karl Kauffmann (2.59) and Texas Tech’s Micah Dallas (3.38), but he does have a history of dominance.
As a sophomore, he earned multiple All-America honors after going 5-1 with a 2.52 ERA and holding opponents to a .186 batting average.
An aspect of Parrish’s game that hasn’t changed is he’s still a high strikeout guy. His 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings ranks 25th nationally and the Razorbacks have struck out a school-record 560 times this season. For his career, Parrish ranks fifth in Florida State history with 337 strikeouts. (That is eight shy of tying Nick Schmidt, who holds the UA record.)
Two guys particularly familiar with Parrish are Arkansas closer Matt Cronin and center fielder Dominic Fletcher, who played with him on the Team USA Collegiate National Team last summer.
“Great guy, great competitor,” Fletcher said. “He throws a lot of strikes, kind of mixes well and he’s a good player. … We had a lot of fun in the summer. It’s going to be a fun matchup.”
On the flip side of it, Florida State will have to figure out how to do something no team has been able to do this season: hit Isaiah Campbell.
The Seminoles’ strategy is to usually make pitchers work and draw walks, as only North Carolina (406) and Central Michigan (386) have been issued more free passes than their 373.
However, that probably won’t work against a guy like Campbell, who has only 20 walks in 111 1/3 innings this season. His 1.6 walks allowed per nine innings are the eighth fewest among Division I pitchers with at least 100 innings.
“There are some teams in our league that have the same philosophy,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “When they face Isaiah, they have to change their philosophy a little bit if he’s doing what he can do, because he throws strikes.”
Campbell has faced two other teams that are top-eight nationally in terms of walks - Vanderbilt and Ole Miss (twice) - and issued only three free passes in 23 innings.
Despite being a preseason top-10 team, Florida State was on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1977 late in the season, bottoming out at No. 97 in the RPI.
The Seminoles rallied, though, and snuck into the postseason as one of the “last four in.” Now in the College World Series, Martin said the turning point was a players-only meeting held by the older players who made it to Omaha in 2017.
No individual player took credit for calling the meeting, but Martin said he feels like it was junior Drew Mendoza, a team captain.
“I think he just saw that there was a need for something to transpire and he took the bull by the horns,” Martin said. “The nice thing about it is the entire team looked up to him… Mendoza is a guy they’re all sold out to, the way he plays, the way he conducts himself on and off the field.”
Mendoza has a team-high 16 home runs and 56 RBIs, while ranking third in batting average at .319.
Van Horn’s Realization
It’s been written ad nauseam that very few predicted Arkansas to make it back to Omaha after last season’s heartbreaking runner-up finish to Oregon State.
The Razorbacks had to replace six of nine players in their lineup, two of three weekend starters and two key bullpen arms. A year later, though, here they are, making the first back-to-back trip to the College World Series in school history.
Although Arkansas was a top-20 team all year, it wasn’t until a dramatic 15-inning win over Auburn that Van Horn thought this team had a chance to be special.
In the second game of a doubleheader after blowing a lead with Campbell on the mound and on the road, the Razorbacks saw a 3-0 lead whither away only to battle back and force extra innings. It appeared they lost in walk-off fashion, but a replay review kept the game going.
Arkansas had a chance to win the game in the 12th, scoring two runs in the top of the inning, but gave up two in the bottom half. Finally, it broke through with a 9-6 win in the 15th.
“I started realizing that we had a pretty good team and they were really determined,” Van Horn said. “I felt like they were tough and I told them, ‘I’m going to kind of get out of your way a little bit… I’m going to let you guys run with this,’ and they’ve done a tremendous job.”
Joking with Fletch
Fletcher is a two-time SEC All-Defensive Team selection, a former Freshman All-American and now a second-team All-SEC performer, but he might not even be the best baseball player in his family.
His older brother, David, got called up to the Los Angeles Angels in June last year and has been there ever since. In his first full season in the big leagues, he’s hitting .306 while playing four different positions.
With such a talented sibling, Fletcher has endured some teasing from his teammates during his career, as Van Horn described Friday afternoon.
“We used to give Dom a hard time when his brother was in the minor leagues, just kind of kid him around the batting cage, saying, ‘You’ll never be as good as your brother,’” Van Horn said. “Then all of a sudden his brother got called up to the big leagues and we started feeling bad about it.”
Facing the SEC
Back in Omaha for the 17th time in his final season before retirement, Martin was in a jovial mood during Friday afternoon’s pre-tournament press conference.
When asked about playing another SEC team, this time at the College World Series, he took the chance to joke about Florida, the Seminoles’ rival that had beaten them in three midweek games this season.
“If I was coming back to Florida State, I’d drop the University of Florida,” Martin said. After a pause and not getting the response from the media he was looking for, he added, “You try to drop Florida, they run you so far out of Tallahassee, it ain’t funny.”
Florida State had much more luck in the postseason, becoming the first team ever to win a regional and super regional on the road against SEC teams in the same season. It had a pair of nine-run wins over Georgia in the Athens Regional and then swept LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
“The Southeastern Conference is obviously a very strong conference in all sports, but we just happened to have a weekend at the University of Georgia in which everything went our way,” Martin said. “When we went to LSU, we just seemed to get the hits when we needed to get them.”
11’s Last Ride
With this being his last season, a lot of media attention has been focused on the potential storyline of Martin - affectionally known by his jersey number, “11” - winning his first national championship after so many trip to Omaha.
The other three coaches at the press conference - Van Horn, Michigan’s Erik Bakich and Texas Tech’s Tim Tadlock - each acknowledged that “a small piece” of them would like to see Florida State win, but as you’d expect, they’re going to do everything they can to prevent it from happening.
“There was a time where absolutely you’re thinking about it being 11’s last year and, until you quality, you’re going, ‘It would be really cool if he could win this deal,’” Tadlock said. “Then you quality and you’re like, ‘No, that wouldn’t be cool.’”
Same Face, New Place
Bryce Bonnin is back in the College World Series for the second straight year, but this time it’s with a new team.
He pitched some for the Razorbacks as a freshman before transferring to Texas Tech in the offseason. Now with the Red Raiders, he is the No. 3 starter in their weekend rotation.
Although he’s enjoyed some success recently, with a 2.53 ERA over his last six starts, Bonnin’s career at Texas Tech got off to a pretty rocky start. In the opening week of the season, the right-hander recorded just one out while giving up four earned runs on two hits and four walks.
It was far from an impressive outing, but Tadlock said he was impressed with Bonnin’s mound presence and that his stuff was “electric from Day 1.”
“Not sure he got a lot of people out that day, but we knew from that point on, we were going to keep running him back out there,” Tadlock said. “We did that and we reaped the benefits of it here down the stretch.”
Joining Bonnin in Lubbock is former Arkansas infielder Easton Murrell. Also a member of the Razorbacks’ 2017 signing class, he has made a handful of starts for Texas Tech and is 7 for 32 (.219) at the plate.
The most notable injury on Arkansas’ side of the bracket in Omaha is to Texas Tech right fielder Gabe Holt. He missed the Red Raiders’ last game and had surgery to repair an injured thumb on Monday, according to D1Baseball.
Tadlock said Friday that he has a “contraption” to get his thumb in his glove and is considered “day-to-day.”
“He’s as tough a kid as it comes,” Tadlock said. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all tomorrow morning if he says he’s playing. If he says he’s playing, he’s hitting leadoff.”