baseball Edit

Trevor Ezell emerges as 'Mr. June' this postseason

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. — Maybe it’s the new bat. Perhaps it’s some minor adjustments he made at the plate. Possibly he has a chip on his shoulder after going undrafted. Or it could be Jared Gates’ postseason juju rubbing off on him.

Whatever it is, Trevor Ezell has been on an absolute tear the last two weeks and it’s helped Arkansas make it back to the College World Series a second straight season for the first time in school history.

Over six games in the Fayetteville Regional and Super Regional, the graduate transfer is slashing an incredible .536/.552/.964 with eight RBIs and eight runs scored.

“Man’s on a mission: He wanted to go to Omaha,” head coach Dave Van Horn said after beating Ole Miss in the super regionals. “I’m just really happy for him that he’s going to finish his college career up there.”

The journey Ezell took to this point of his career was not that of an average college baseball player. Instead, it took a while for the in-state kid to get a chance to play for the Razorbacks.

As a senior at Bryant, he helped the Hornets capture the Class 7A state championship - alongside Blaine Knight and Evan Lee - and won the Gatorade Player of the Year award.

However, he wasn’t recruited by Arkansas and ended up at Southeast Missouri State, a program in the OVC. In four years with the Redhawks, Ezell piled up numerous awards - Freshman All-American in 2015, second-team All-OVC pick in 2016 and first-team All-OVC in 2018 - thanks to some impressive numbers.

In 181 games, he hit .336 with 45 doubles, 13 triples, 16 home runs, 128 RBIs, 194 runs and 48 stolen bases. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for Arkansas, he missed nearly all of 2017 with a back injury. That allowed Ezell to take a medical redshirt and become a graduate transfer for his final season.

Even though he played at a lower level, he was a hot commodity on the pre-portal transfer market, even taking a visit to Texas A&M. Van Horn described him as the biggest recruit of the summer.

“I remember sitting in Omaha for two weeks calling him like every other day saying, ‘Don’t do anything. We’re here,’” Van Horn said. “During that time, he visited a couple other schools and it was huge when he committed here.”

Offseason shoulder surgery prevented him from going through fall ball and eventually prompted him to move from second to first base just a few days before the season began.

It was a gamble by Van Horn because second was Ezell’s natural position and he had never played first before, probably because he is just 5-foot-8. All he’s done there is post a .994 fielding percentage and earn SEC All-Defensive Team honors.

Ezell has also impacted the team offensively, hitting .333 with 10 home runs, 49 RBIs and an SEC-leading 25 doubles. He also leads Arkansas with 47 walks and 19 stolen bases.

After beginning the season in the 3-hole, Ezell moved to the leadoff spot midway through the season and really took off. As the leadoff man, which he became before the UALR midweek game on April 2, he has hit .365 and slugged .649.

“He’s the spark plug of our team,” center fielder Dominic Fletcher said. “He leads us off and gets us going. Once he gets us rolling, I think everyone else kind of follows.”

Since the start of the NCAA Tournament, though, he has taken it to a completely new level. Of the 67 players with at least 20 postseason at bats, Ezell has the highest batting average at .536.

In the winner-take-all Game 3 against Ole Miss, he went 3 for 5 and had a two-run single with two outs in the second innings. That was probably one of the biggest hits of the weekend for the Razorbacks, as they rode it to a 14-1 victory.

“He fouled off a couple of pitches, I think the count was 2-2 and he got a changeup down and he slapped it in the four hole,” Van Horn said. “All of a sudden, we’re up 4-1 and man, you could just really feel the momentum swing to us.”

Although all three of his hits in that game were singles, more than half of his postseason hits have been for extra bases, with six doubles and two home runs.

“Luckily, they are kind of falling where they aren’t sometimes,” Ezell said. “I’m really getting a good barrel on the ball and they’re finding gaps. That’s not always how it goes, but I’ll obviously take them.”

This surge in productivity conjures up memories of the Razorbacks’ last first baseman, Jared Gates. Not a very good hitter during the regular season, Gates hit 90 points higher in the postseason, improving from an abysmal .217/.314/.372 slash to .307/.398/.533.

Ezell’s picked up almost exactly where Gates left off in the postseason, hitting .307/.430/.523 entering the NCAA Tournament, but has still experienced a large jump in his numbers.

Now a student assistant for the Razorbacks, Gates does pregame work with Ezell before the rest of the team gets on the field. Ezell joked that his knack for delivering in the postseason has rubbed off on him from those sessions, but Gates isn’t buying it.

“Trevor’s a special player,” Gates said. “I think I just hit a groove, but Trevor’s a really good player, so we’re not surprised by what he’s doing and when he’s doing it. He’s just a really good player, so props to him for leading this team.”

Despite having all of that success in his final collegiate season, Ezell went undrafted in last week’s MLB Draft. It makes sense why no teams took a chance on him, though, as he won’t be.a 5-foot-8 first baseman and his injury history might prevent him from ever being able to play second.

Hitting coach Nate Thompson said the Razorbacks probably won’t be in this position without Ezell and that he might be using that draft snub as extra motivation this postseason.

“I’m sure deep down he maybe feels like that, but there’s nothing he can control there, with the injury and everything,” Thompson said. “Hey, he lets his game speak for itself. He may not be real tall, but he’s got all the heart in the world.”

The last part of Thompson’s assessment - Ezell’s heart - is not quantifiable, much like the leadership qualities he possesses as a fifth-year senior.

Fletcher joked that the team calls Ezell “Dad” because of his age and full beard - something that has even caught the attention of opposing coaches.

“They’ve got a fifth-year senior who plays first base that looks like he’s 40 years old and hits balls all over the yard,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said with a smile. “I mean, I’m not buying it.”

Having attended the event growing up, Ezell is soaking up every moment of the College World Series.

These could be the final games of his collegiate career - and possibly entire career - so he hopes to make the most of it, just as he has in the first two stages of the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s just trying not to do too much and not take anything for granted,” Ezell said. “These could have been the last college games I ever got to play and I wanted to do really well for the guys on the team and try to represent everybody well.

“That’s exactly why I came here to Arkansas. I wanted to have a chance to…not only play in the postseason, but go all the way to Omaha.”

Ezell and the Razorbacks get started against Florida State at 6 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised on ESPN.