Editor’s note: Because of press deadlines, and, frankly, four hour games, Wednesday’s Game Two between Arkansas and Oregon State was not complete before the paper had to be printed. Check www.PulaskiNews.net for coverage from Omaha, Neb., and, if a Game Three is needed, it will be played at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, weather permitting, and look for coverage online.
On a 4-run fifth inning and the arms of Blaine Knight, Barrett Loseke and Matt Cronin the Arkansas Razorbacks beat the Oregon State Beavers, 4-1 Tuesday night at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. in Game One of their best 2 of 3 College World Series final to perch one victory away from winning the first baseball national championship in school history.
The Razorbacks and Beavers meet again at 6 p.m. tonight on ESPN and if necessary at 5:30 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2.
Junior All-American right-hander Knight of Bryant became the first Razorback ever to be 14-0 throwing six complete innings scattering seven hits and striking out six against a walk to hand Loseke a 4-1 lead starting the seventh.
Loseke, facing a minimum six for the seventh and eighth, assisted by left fielder Heston Kjerstad throwing out Zak Taylor trying to stretch a single into a double, struck out three before lifted for Cronin after yielding a leadoff single in the ninth.
Cronin achieved a Razorbacks record 14th save with two strikeouts and a game-ending force-out.
“We give a lot of credit to the pitching for Arkansas,” Oregon State Coach Pat Casey said. “I thought they threw the ball real well.”
Netting but five hits and striking out 16 times against losing OSU lefty ace Luke Heimlich and lefty reliever Christian Chamberlain, Arkansas scored its four runs in the fifth with just two singles, consecutive hits by Jared Gates and Grant Koch with Koch’s scoring Carson Shaddy, 1-out walk, before scoring three more with the bases loaded on a hit batsman, error and a walk.
“We feel very fortunate to have won the ballgame,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “I think that just starting with their pitching, it was outstanding. We put together one good inning, and they walked a couple people and got a couple of hits, hit a batter or two, and we felt like we left a couple runs out there, but it ended up holding up.
On our side, I thought Blaine gave us another quality start, six pretty good innings, and got out of a jam or two. Loseke came in and kind of bridged it, and then Matt finished it up. But we played good defense, made a couple of nice plays.”
Oregon State took a 1-0 lead in the second. Trevor Larnach doubled to right leading off. Tyler Malone grounded a 1-out single past Knight that shortstop Jax Biggers fielded but had no play for an infield single setting up runners at first and third for Michael Gretier’s RBI single to left-center. Knight stranded a pair striking out Kyle Nobach and Zak Taylor.
The Beavers ran into double play interference in the fourth.
Arkansas left fielder Heston Kjerstad never saw Larnach’s leadoff fly ball in the sun that bounced over the fence for a ground rule double. Larnach stopped at third on Adley Rutschman’s single to shallow left-center. Larnach crossed the plate on Tyler Malone’s grounder to first baseman Jared Gates throwing Rutschman out at second. However Rutschman, never sliding nor peeling off out of the way, was ruled to have interfered with shortstop Biggers’ attempt to complete a double play. The interference call automatically declared a double play with Larnach recalled to third. Larnach, despite OSU Coach Pat Casey’s argument, remained stranded as Knight struck out Gretier.
“We had that run taken off the board right there, so that makes it tough,” Casey said. “We’ve got a guy on first base with a two-run lead and one out, so everybody can look at the tape and decide for themselves what they think.”
No doubt what Casey thought.
“I don’t agree with his (the second base umpire’s) explanation,” Casey said. “It appeared Rutsch was doing everything he could to get out of the way. The ball left the guy’s hand. They weren’t near one another, so I don’t agree with the call, but I don’t — it’s certainly not something that I’m going to say that affected us or affected the game.”
Controversy dogged Casey and the Beavers again in the fifth. Steven Kwan singled with two out when Cadyn Greiner lined a shot down the right field line declared foul, then fair on video review.
The runners, on what became a dead ball single, were placed at first and third when Knight stranded them striking out Kyle Nobach.
Heimlich had yielded just a walk to Carson Shaddy and a single to Grant Koch through four innings before undone by four runs in the fifth on just two singles augmented by two walks, two hit batsmen and an error. Shaddy started it drawing a 1-out walk. First baseman Gates,, who would make a spectacular diving catch of a foul fly in the OSU fifth, bounced a single over first putting runners at first and third. Koch, the junior superb defensive catcher from Fayetteville this season struggling at the plate, shed his struggles delivering his second single, this one tying it 1-1.
Heimlich. heretofore so brilliant, hit the next two batters, the second hit batsman netting a bases loaded RBI for Eric Cole. Casey Martin’s grounder to second was going to score one anyway and became an all-hands still bases loaded on second baseman Nick Madrigal’s error. Rattled, Heimlich delivered Ball One to Heston Kjerstad and was replaced by lefty Christian Chamberlain.
“He (Heimlich) started to lose it,” Casey said. “He didn’t throw the ball where he needed to, and it kind of — it was — I don’t know, I don’t have an answer for that. He’d been real good all year long, and certainly really struggled in that inning.”
Chamberlain missed his first three pitches for a bases loaded walk and fourth Arkansas run.
Ultimately, Chamberlain stranded three Razorbacks in the fifth, and dodged bullets to strand three walks in the sixth and Dominic Fletcher’s double in the seventh and threw a 1-2-3 eighth and stranded two in the ninth. Chamberlain struck out 11 for his 4 2-3 innings.
“Christian was outstanding,” Casey said. “He pitched like a man, kept us right where we needed to be, and we needed to be there.”
Kjerstad factored big time on Loseke’s second hitter in the seventh throwing out Taylor at second trying to stretch a ricocheted off the wall single into a double prompting the predominantly Arkansas crowd to burst into Hog calls like they were at Baum Stadium.
“You know, it’s amazing to have the fans like we have in Arkansas,” Kjerstad said. “The best in the country. I felt like we were playing in Baum Stadium, just a lot bigger, with 25,000 Arkansas fans in it.”