Key takeaways, box score from Arkansas Razorbacks' 7-1 win over Grand Canyon Antelopes in 2022 Stillwater Regional
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Key takeaways, box score from Arkansas' win over Grand Canyon

Cayden Wallace homered twice in Friday's win over Grand Canyon.
Cayden Wallace homered twice in Friday's win over Grand Canyon. (Arkansas Athletics)

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STILLWATER, Okla. — For the first time in what feels like forever, Arkansas jumped out to an early lead and Connor Noland took care of the rest Friday afternoon.

The Razorbacks scored the first five runs of the day and their ace limited a dangerous Grand Canyon lineup to only one run in seven innings to help them to a 7-1 win in the opener of the Stillwater Regional at O’Brate Stadium.

After falling behind by at least three runs within five innings of their last eight games, Arkansas used a four-run second inning to make sure that wouldn’t happen again to open the postseason.

“It started on the mound with Connor today,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “Connor did a good job of not letting them frustrate him. But I think he would tell you, that long second inning that we had was big for our team's confidence.”

It was already 1-0 thanks to a solo home run by Cayden Wallace in the first, but hitting home runs hasn’t been Arkansas’ problem. Scoring runs in other ways has been much more of a challenge. Over the previous 15 games, the Razorbacks hit 26 long balls that accounted for 48 of their 80 runs — a whopping 60 percent.

That changed with a two-out rally following a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play by the Antelopes that wiped out a leadoff walk. Peyton Stovall started it with a single and then, on a 2-2 pitch, Grand Canyon starter Daniel Avitia plunked Zack Gregory.

At that point, the Razorbacks were in business with runners on first and second, and Grand Canyon head coach Andy Stankiewicz knew his star freshman was in trouble.

“We were hoping to kind of get through it,” Stankiewicz said. “He’s usually around the zone, so when he hits a guy, you know he’s not quite on it. There were some moments there where we thought we could get back in the dugout, but once he hit the guy…you’re like like, ‘Oh, this isn’t where he usually is.’”

Braydon Webb followed with a bloop single that just got over second baseman Jonny Weaver’s head to drive in a run and double Arkansas’ lead. After a walk by Brady Slavens to load the bases, Wallace was hit by a pitch to bring in another run.

The bases were still loaded for Michael Turner and the senior catcher fouled off a couple of two-strike pitches before hitting a two-run single up the middle to cap what Van Horn described as an “amazing inning.”

“I thought the hitters did an incredible job of fouling off pitches, working the count, just getting the pitch count way up,” Van Horn said. “And then we came through with a couple of big hits. It started with Webb's big hit, and Michael got the big hit that kind of finished it off.

“You can hit three homers in an inning, but what we did in the second, I'll take that any time. That was big-time at-bats.”

With a 5-0 lead, Noland was able to relax and turn in his best outing in more than a month, giving the Razorbacks seven strong innings.

“It gives me a lot of confidence to go out there and just fill up the zone,” Noland said. “You can throw it in there, and a hit or two won’t hurt you that much. Just flood the zone and really get aggressive and try to put the game away.”

For good measure, the Razorbacks manufactured yet anther run in the sixth inning with the help of some heads-up base running by Slavens.

The slugger drew a leadoff walk and then, when Wallace flied out to deep right-center, he tagged up to second — a rare play in baseball. It immediately paid dividends, as Turner followed with an RBI single.

“When the center fielder caught it running away from the base, that's when he made his move,” Van Horn said. “If the right fielder would have caught it, I don't think he would have been able to go, so really good job by Brady there because obviously we ended up scoring a run.”

Here are several other key takeaways from Friday’s win…

Noland Returns to Form

Arkansas’ struggles on the mound, particularly by its starting pitchers, have been well documented. Since the middle of SEC play, they have rarely worked deep into games and have typically gotten knocked around.

Noland was a perfect example of that. A likely first-team All-SEC selection for most of the season, he looked like a completely different pitcher down the stretch. Over his previous five starts, the senior gave up 22 earned runs in 26 innings, leading to his ERA ballooning from 2.54 to 4.07.

Luckily for the Razorbacks, he returned to form and had one of his best starts of the season. Noland scattered six hits and three walks across seven innings. He had four strikeouts and allowed only one run.

“He did a really good job of mixing up his pitches, moving his fastball around, then throwing his off-speed stuff down in the zone,” Stankiewicz said. “We kind of found ourselves chasing a little bit and that put us in a tough spot.”

One of the issues Noland had been having was with locating his fastball. It was something Turner pointed to after the loss to Florida at the SEC Tournament as an area of emphasis this week.

That works seems to have paid off, as the catcher said it was much better Friday, keeping the Antelopes off balance.

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