The Arkansas Razorbacks entered the Stillwater Regional as the #2 seed with a lot of doubters and question marks. Not many people truly thought this team had what it takes to go into Stillwater and knock off the Cowboys on their home field. Despite their struggles to find reliable pitching and timely hitting throughout a large part of the season, it still felt like it was a matter of time before it started to come together. The Razorbacks won their first game of the Regional against Grand Canyon 7-1 on Friday behind a stellar pitching performance by starter Connor Noland which ended up being one of the lowest scoring games in the Stillwater Regional that featured 41 home runs and 148 runs scored between all four teams.
Arkansas would play Oklahoma State in the winners’ bracket Saturday night in a game that felt like a roller coaster ride for those who watched. In Saturday’s game, Arkansas would trail twice by 5 runs (6-1 and 10-5). Trailing 10-8 in the top of the eighth inning, Arkansas would erupt for eight runs with half of them coming off of a Jalen Battles Grand Slam. Arkansas would go on to win 20-12 and earn themselves a spot in the regional final.
On Sunday, Oklahoma State had to beat Missouri State to get another shot at Arkansas. The Cowboys trailed 12-0 at one point before miraculously coming back to win the game 29-15 sending the Bears home. Arkansas and Oklahoma State would meet again on Sunday night with Arkansas only needing one win to advance to a Super Regional while Oklahoma State needed two. In another crazy game that featured a lot of offense, it was the Cowboys hitters who flexed their muscles when it mattered most. Arkansas would once again battle their way back, trailing 6-2 at one point before taking a late 8-7 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning on a clutch two-run homerun by Michael Turner. Connor Noland would come into the game in the top of the ninth to close it out but wasn’t able to get the job done.
Oklahoma State would put up a three-spot and Arkansas would find themselves down two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Arkansas would not go away quietly, scoring the tying runs on a two-out two-run single by Brady Slavens. Oklahoma State would answer in a big way, putting up four runs in their next at-bat taking a 14–10 lead. Arkansas was unable to score as they fell to the Cowboys 14-10 setting up a winner take all game on Monday for a chance to punch their ticket into the Super Regionals.
On Monday, Arkansas was able to build a 5-0 lead thanks to some timely 2-out hits by Jalen Battles and Peyton Stovall. Brady Slavens got Arkansas on the board first with his solo home run to left-center field in the bottom of the fourth inning. There was very little drama until the bottom of the eighth inning with Arkansas clinging to a 5-3 lead. With the bases loaded and one out, Freshman pitcher Hagen Smith would strike out back-to-back batters to end the threat. Needing more insurance runs, Arkansas would add two more in the top of the ninth inning on a huge two-out two-run double off the bat of Michael Turner who had played well enough to eventually be named tournament MVP. Leading 7-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, Hagen Smith made very quick work of the Cowboys retiring all three batters he faced.
The Arkansas Razorbacks will travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to play the #10 North Carolina Tar Heels in the Super Regionals. Game one will be on Saturday at 11:00 am ET on ESPN and Game 2 is scheduled for 1:00 pm ET on ESPN/ESPN2.
It’s refreshing to see Arkansas finally put it together. The Razorbacks were able to out pitch and out hit an extremely talented Oklahoma State team who has dangerous hitters throughout their lineup. Cowboys’ second baseman Roc Riggio displayed some questionable antics on the field but there is no denying his talent. However, this is about Arkansas. This team has been through a lot this season on an off the field and they are peaking at the right time.
Defensively, Arkansas is playing extremely well. Cayden Wallace’s off-balance bare-handed throw during Monday’s game with the bases loaded was incredible. Zack Gregory’s catch-up against the wall, Robert Moore’s fantastic play at second, and Michael Turner’s pickoff at first were all defining moments. The bats have woken up. How far can this team go? They’ll have another tough task awaiting against the Tar Heels, but they have certainly proven they are capable of beating anybody.