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Saturday In Stillwater: Comebacks Are King

Postseason

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STILLWATER, Okla. – Missouri State rallied late to stun Grand Canyon in the elimination game Saturday at the Stillwater regional, and Arkansas followed suit in the nightcap against Oklahoma State.

Arkansas Advances To Regional Final With Late-Inning Thriller

If you ever had a sense that Arkansas has some unfinished business to take care of, dating back to last year’s super regional loss to NC State, Saturday’s 20-12 win over Oklahoma State in Stillwater may have heightened that notion. In a game that the host Cowboys controlled from the third inning until the eighth, the Razorbacks made an emphatic statement by scoring 15 runs over the final three innings to put themselves in the driver’s seat.

Should Arkansas continue to advance, this game will undoubtedly be the one that is pointed to as the moment turned things around. For weeks the Razorbacks have struggled to find the right combination for things to simply click, losing their last two games of the regular season to Alabama and then losing both games played at the SEC Tournament. They went from a potential regional host to a dangerous yet enigmatic two-seed within a couple of weeks despite finishing the second in the SEC West with a still-commanding 18-12 in-conference record.

“It was a great win for the team,” Arkansas skipper Dave Van Horn said of the game and his team’s late comeback. “Anything can happen if you believe, and those guys, they knew they couldn’t do it by themselves. Guys were standing in there getting hit by pitches and taking borderline pitches early and not getting themselves out. It took a lot of things for us to make a comeback and then pull away like that.”

You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t tune in early, but the game started with an intriguing pitching matchup between Oklahoma State’s ace, righthander Justin Campbell, and Arkansas freshman lefthander Hagen Smith. Neither pitcher was at his best in the control/command department, but both showed headlining pure stuff. With so much on the line, Smith didn’t make it out of the second inning after he gave up a pair of runs on just one base hit but four walks. Campbell lasted five innings, allowing five runs on seven hits, pitching his way in and out of trouble on several occasions.

It didn’t take long for the offense to show up as the second batter of the game, Brady Slavens, put Arkansas on the board first with a solo home run. After Roc Riggio tied the game in the bottom of the first, scoring on an error, Arkansas moved out in front once again with another solo shot, this one coming off the bat of Robert Moore.

Riggio, a dynamic freshman second baseman, hit an RBI double in the bottom of the second that once again tied the game. Nolan McLean put Oklahoma State ahead with an absolute blast of a two-run home run that exited O’Brate Stadium completely, and Riggio extended the lead to 7-2 with a three-run shot as part of a five-run third.

The energy and momentum swayed heavily to Oklahoma State’s favor at that moment of the game, although none of that seemed to faze its opponent. Instead, the Hogs kept battling.

Cayden Wallace, who hit a pair of homers on Friday, added another on Saturday in the fourth inning. Michael Turner hit a two-run single in the fifth that allowed Arkansas to pull within two runs, at least for an inning.

In the bottom of the sixth Oklahoma State responded loudly yet again, scoring three more runs, the third of which came on yet another Roc Riggio RBI base hit.

Those pesky Razorbacks wouldn’t go away, however, as a pair of seventh-inning solo shots by Turner and Moore – Moore’s second of the day – once again pulled Arkansas within striking distance.

“It was a great effort by both teams,” Van Horn said. “When we got down early we just kept fighting. I thought our guys really did a good job at the plate, taking some close pitches, working the count, hit by pitches; doing anything they could to help the team.

“The biggest inning, I think, was when they scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth and then in the top of the seventh we hit the solo and two-run home run with two outs. That was huge. We were running out of outs and all of the sudden we’re down by only two runs again.”

A Mike Rooney-inspired “buckle your chinstraps” announcement on the O’Brate Stadium PA would have been helpful heading into the eighth inning as that’s when all hell broke loose.

With no outs and the bases loaded, Oklahoma State turned to their dynamic two-way talent, Nolan McLean – who had already hit three home runs in the Stillwater Regional – to take the mound. McLean throws plenty hard, sitting at 93-95 mph in this game, and he did strike out the first batter he faced. The next five, however, not so much, as a pair of bases-loaded walks led to a tie game. An HBP led to an 11-10 lead for Arkansas and another bases-loaded walk led to another Razorbacks run.

Then came the hit of the day and possibly the entire year – if not the loudest hit in all of college baseball it certainly was for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

With a new pitcher on the mound for Oklahoma State, Trevor Martin, Jalen Battles jumped all over a first-pitch fastball and sent it well out of the stadium for a deafening grand slam. Suddenly Arkansas led 16-10.

“I was looking for a fastball first pitch,” Battles recalled in a matter-of-fact way after the game. “Once I hit it I kind of blacked out. Last year, La. Tech, same thing. I really don’t remember it, I hit it and I blacked out. It felt good off the bat. It was right down the middle, I didn’t miss it.”

After a Brett Brown two-run single in the bottom of the eighth, four more Arkansas runs scored in the top of the ninth, three of which came on a Chris Lanzilli home run. Will McEntire was turned to record the final four outs of the game for Arkansas, which he did, pushing the Hogs to the regional final with the 20-12 win. It also gave the Razorbacks their 40th win of the year.

“The eighth inning we were extremely patient and took advantage of some things,” Van Horn said. “Jalen had the big swing, the grand slam there that really gave us a cushion. That was really an unexpected type of game on a Saturday night between two 1-0 teams. That’s why you go to the game to watch it.”

Arkansas’ Nos. 4-7 hitters – Turner, Lanzilli, Moore and Battles – each had four RBIs. The team banged out 16 base hits, drew five walks and their batters were hit by pitches seven times.

“We’re good hitters and we believe in each other,” Moore said of Arkansas’ team effort. “As long as we have outs we believe we have enough firepower to get us back in a game and have a chance to win. And then Jalen doing that was probably my favorite moment as a Razorback.”

For Oklahoma State, Riggio had the biggest day, going 4-for-5 at the plate with a double, a home run and five RBIs. McLean drew three walks in addition to hitting his tape measure blast and both Chase Adkison and Caeden Trenkle – OSU’s Nos. 8 and 9 hitters – had a pair of base hits.

Both teams cleaned out their bullpens in what looked like a scout day with plenty of low- to mid-90s arms on display. The biggest pitching contributions for Arkansas came from Zack Morris, who tossed three innings; Brady Tygart, who picked up the win in 1 2/3 innings; and McEntire.

To win the regional and advance to the super regional round Arkansas needs to win just one more game. If Oklahoma State is to advance, it will have to get past Missouri State first and then Arkansas twice. The Oklahoma State/Missouri State re-match will start at noon on Sunday with the winner advancing to play Arkansas at 6:00 p.m.

“It’s obviously the best position to be in of the three teams that are left, but we still have to finish it up,” Van Horn added. “We’ll have an opportunity to watch who we’re going to play tomorrow and then come out and play tomorrow night. Our guys get it, they know we haven’t done anything. They still know some heartbreak from last year, you’ve gotta know what it’s all about. You’ve gotta finish.”


Missouri State Stays Alive With Stunning Comeback

If you’ve been following along you know that Missouri State can put up a crooked number in a hurry. They certainly got Oklahoma State’s attention on Friday night when they scored four runs on a pair of two-run home runs that you might have missed if you stepped away from the game to grab a beverage. That, however, doesn’t make it any less surprising when it does occur and Grand Canyon was the Bears most recent victim in an 8-7 victory for MSU.

GCU looked to be in control for the first eight innings of the game, carrying a 7-1 lead into the eighth inning while receiving dynamic performances from their starter, Nick Hull, and their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, shortstop Jacob Young and right fielder Tayler Aguilar. Hull struck out 10 over 6 1/3 innings, Young fell a triple shy of the cycle and Aguilar enjoyed another three-hit game, blasting a pair of two-run home runs with five RBIs.

Missouri State catcher Drake Baldwin, who was making hard contact all day long, – starting with a run-scoring single in the third inning – stirred his sleeping giant teammates from their slumber when he blasted a two-run home run in the top of the eighth. That followed a walk by Spencer Nivens to open the frame, but lefthanded reliever Eli Ankeney was summoned from the GCU bullpen and struck out a pair of batters to end the threat.

When the ninth inning started GCU still held what seemed like a comfortable 7-3 lead and they turned to their closer, Vince Reilly, the owner of 14 saves on the 2022 season, to finish things off. But that wasn’t enough to rattle Missouri State’s Murderer’s Row.

Will Duff was hit by a pitch to open the ninth and Walker Jenkins followed with a walk. Nivens hit a three-run home run that pulled Missouri State within one run. After Drake Baldwin reached on an error Mason Hull provided the biggest hit of the Stillwater Regional so far, a two-run home run yanked down the left field line that instantly changed the narrative and put Missouri State on top, 8-7.

“It’s the same thing I think we’ve seen all year,” Missouri State Head Coach Keith Guttin said after the game. “We had our ups and downs during the regular season. We had some great wins and we had some tough losses. It’s a pretty steady group with great player leadership. We just kept swinging, staying with the process. We had the right guys up and they delivered.”

MSU closer Jake McMahill, who entered the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, secured the win. His previous 3 2/3 innings were plenty valuable in allowing his team to get back into the game, but his final frame was his most important. In total, McMahill allowed one run on three hits and a pair of walks over 4 2/3, striking out seven thanks to his low-90s heat.

In the win the top of the batting order carried the Missouri State offense. Nivens had the one big hit and also walked three times, leading to three runs scored out of the leadoff spot. Baldwin was 2-for-5 with a pair of runs scored and three driven in while Hull was also 2-for-5 with the biggest hit of the day.

“I was just trying to hit the ball hard,” Hull said of his ninth-inning home run. “The guy on the mound was a heavy fastball guy so I was just looking for a fastball to hit hard. We had some momentum going, Spencer hit the bomb, Drake put the ball in play and I was just trying to help the team win.”

The win continues Missouri State’s incredible run after winning five of six games while playing host at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament a week ago. They will play Oklahoma State, who lost to Arkansas in yet another Stillwater thriller Saturday night, in an elimination game at noon on Sunday.

With the loss, Grand Canyon’s season is over.

“I have to say that Grand Canyon is a really good team, very well coached,” Guttin said. “The first pitcher just stifled us. We hung in there and had the right guys up and they delivered. Our guys are gritty [and] they don’t quit.”

GCU finishes the year 41-21 after making the Field of 64 as an at-large bid, beating five eventual postseason teams during the regular season: Arizona, Oregon State, San Diego, Stanford and Texas Tech. The 2022 season marks their second straight year making the NCAA Tournament, a significant accomplishment considering the program transitioned to Division I baseball in 2014.

“Every player that has come through our program has built it with the mentality of being able to be a great Division I baseball program,” GCU Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz said after the loss. “I’m proud of the way the program has grown, absolutely, and this is a step, a tough one, but we feel like we’re in a position where we should be competing at a championship level every year. There’s no more hoping we can do it, now it’s expecting we can do it, year in and year out.”

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