Diamond Hogs struggle to score in Omaha
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. — Twenty-two innings after taking the lead against Oregon State in Game 2 of last year’s finals, Arkansas is still looking for its next run at TD Ameritrade Park.
Florida State broke a scoreless tie in the ninth inning to beat the Razorbacks 1-0 in their opening game of the 2019 College World Series and send them to the loser’s bracket.
The stretch of 22 scoreless innings by Arkansas’ offense matches the streak by Mississippi State over the 2013 and 2018 College World Series, which is the longest since Rice went 25 straight innings without a run in Omaha from 2006-2007.
Unlike the final game of last year, when it seemed like they had no chance to hit the Beavers’ starter, the Razorbacks actually saw the ball really well early against Florida State pitcher Drew Parrish. All but two of their first nine outs were “loud” outs - balls that just couldn’t find holes.
“We hit some balls hard early at people,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “Hit a couple of ball off the end of the bat that just happened to go right at them, as well, but that’s kind of the way the game works.”
Arkansas started the game with three straight line outs - two to the shortstop and one to the second baseman - and then Heston Kjerstad was robbed of extra bases with one out in the second inning.
He crushed a 2-0 pitch to the left-center gap that looked like it might have a chance to be a home run, but it stayed in the park and center fielder J.C. Flowers managed to track it down, making a spectacular grab while crashing into the wall.
Despite those type of plays, Kjerstad said he didn’t feel like the Razorbacks were pressing. Rather, they were encouraged by the start.
“That’s all we try to do when we go up to the plate,” Kjerstad said. “My goal is to just hit something hard and if you do that, that’s a good at bat. Once the ball leaves the bat, you can’t really do much.”
The very next innings, Arkansas encountered some more bad luck at the plate. After 9-hole hitter Christian Franklin notched their first hit of the game, the Razorbacks got a single by Trevor Ezell. Parrish knocked down a hard-hit grounder by Casey Martin and threw him out, but that play moved to second and third with one out.
During Matt Goodheart’s at bat, the Seminoles’ infielders charged in on each pitch and it paid off when he lined out right to the second baseman. Had he been playing back, it might have bounced to allow a run to score. If it was hit a few feet to either side of him, two runs would have scored.
Instead, it resulted in an inning-ending double play because Franklin was doubled up at third, as he was running on contact.
“I was just trying to score in any situation,” Franklin said. “On contact, I was ready to go and Goodheart put a really good swing on it. The infielders were coming in for an infield-in situation and they just got lucky on that play.”
From that point on Parrish settled in and was much harder on the Razorbacks’ hitters. Even though he came into the game with a 5.11 ERA, he was the kind of pitcher that had given them fits all season: a left-hander with good off-speed stuff.
The former All-American was effective with his fastball and curveball, but it was his changeup that particularly impressed his catcher, Matheu Nelson.
“His changeup was just unhittable tonight,” Nelson said. “It was almost as if the ball was stopping and then the guys were already through their swing and the ball wasn’t even there.”
Arkansas had a couple more chances for a breakthrough, stranding a runner on third in two more innings.
In the sixth, Kjerstad grounded out to the pitcher to end a first-and-third jam. Two innings later, Franklin hit a leadoff double and moved to third on a ground out by Ezell, only be left there thanks to strikeouts by Martin and Goodheart.
That gave Parrish nine strikeouts in a season-high tying eight innings. It was an impressive showing that prompted some high praise from the Razorbacks.
“We’re just going to tip the cap - they did a fantastic job on the mound,” Ezell said. “(They) really kept the off-speed down, so there weren’t too many pitches we…really had chances to capitalize on.”
“(Parrish) never left a fastball over the plate or really over the heart and if he did, they mixed enough that we just weren’t ready for it,” Casey Opitz said. “Credit to them for mixing as much as they did and hitting their spots.”
“He threw three pitches for strikes, mixed them in pretty much any count and he’s deceptive,” Goodheart said. “Some pitches just looked like other pitches.”
Although it might be overshadowed by him getting doubled up and picked off on the base paths, Franklin was the only player who had much success against Parrish.
The freshman had two of Arkansas’ five hits after going hitless with nine strikeouts in 14 at bats over the previous five games.
“Me and Coach (Nate) Thompson worked on trying to keep my leg kick more quiet, so we switched to a toe-tap to kind of replicate my swing at the beginning of the season,” Franklin said. “It’s helped a lot and I’ve been able to see the ball a lot.”
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, his hitting wasn’t contagious and the zeroes kept piling up on the scoreboard.
“At the beginning, everybody was catching barrels, nobody was really thrown off by Parrish’s stuff,” Franklin said. “I would say it was a little bit frustrating later in the game when those hits weren’t falling.”
Arkansas now has to regroup before an elimination game against No. 8 national seed Texas Tech on Monday.
One positive from Saturday night is that the players seemed upbeat and optimistic about their chances to keep their season alive despite being one loss away from it ending.
“You have to lose two to be knocked out of this thing,” Kjerstad said. “We feel pretty confident that after we flush this, we’ll come back out there and do our thing again.”
The Razorbacks are hoping to get the kind of performance from their offense they got the last time they were shutout. After losing to Alabama 10-0 back in March, they immediately bounced back and beat the Crimson Tide 10-2 in the rubber match.
Against a much better team a few weeks later, they struggled to score in two straight games at Vanderbilt before exploding for 14 runs to avoid a sweep. That also sparked a 16-game stretch in which they hit .363 and averaged 10.8 runs.
If it can do that again, Arkansas will have a shot to come through the loser’s bracket.
“We’ve done it before,” Martin said. “We dropped a big game against Vandy and turned around and came out and won. We didn’t hit the ball at all that Saturday and then we had 22 hits that Sunday game.”
First pitch of Monday’s elimination game is scheduled for 1 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPN.