Isaiah Campbell / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Baseball is the most fickle of sports.
Last week Arkansas ace right hander Isaiah Campbell pitched a masterful game for seven and 2/3 innings, striking out 10 batters against five hits and no walks, but he suffered a stinging 3-2 loss to to No. 6 Vanderbilt at Nashville.
A hit here or there and the tables could have been turned on the Commodores, but it was not to be.
Who: vs Mississippi State
When: April 18, 19, 20
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium
Watch: ESPNU, SECN+, SECN+
However, the junior Razorback got the hits he and the rest of the No. 10 Hogs needed Thursday night to make sure his performance stood strong against the No. 3 Mississippi State Bulldogs in the friendly confines of Baum-Walker Stadium for a stirring 5-3 victory.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Campbell. “At the end of six innings, he kind of made the comment he started feeling a little bit tired. We punched in some runs, and it’s almost like he got a second wind out there and we thought, ‘well, if he can get us through the sixth’ and he did.
“He said I think I can go another and when he got us through the seventh real quick he said ‘hey I don’t want to come out yet.’ No walks, 10 strikeouts, I mean, what more could you want? And limited one of the best hitting teams, if not the best hitting team in the league to five hits. That’s a great outing.”
Like last week Campbell (7-1, 2.44 ERA) was on fire with 10 Ks and no walks Thursday before he left the game in the hands of fellow junior Matt Cronin with two outs in the eighth. The difference, though, the Hogs held a 3-2 lead.
Cronin made it interesting allowing a run in the top of the ninth, but did his part striking out three batters in 1 1/3 innings of work. However the big difference from a week ago at Vandy came in the bottom of the eighth with Dominic Fletcher’s game-sealing, two-run homer. It was his sixth homer of the season, and a perfect way to cap a 3-for-4 night.
“That guy (Mississippi State ace Ethan Small) throws a bunch of cutters, so I took one and then he threw a slider down in the dirt,” Fletcher said. “I kind of had a feeling another cutter was coming, and I got on time with it. I think it’s huge to score late and give your bullpen another couple of runs for cushion.”
Mississippi State pitcher Ethan Small is the ace who threw well Thursday night but will have to wait a week for absolution in the Bulldogs’ next series. Small, considered one of the SEC’s best arms, restrained the Razorbacks with a perfect game through the fourth inning until Fletcher got his first hit in the fifth with Arkansas trailing, 1-0.
“My mindset didn’t change,” Campbell said of pitching while behind. “I knew if I just kept making pitches and keeping us in the game, our hitters would get to him and get the lead, and that’s what we did in the sixth. It gave us some momentum and we carried it on until the end of the game.”
The Hogs’ three-run sixth gave Arkansas the lead for good. Catcher Casey Opitz walked, and left fielder Christian Franklin slapped a single. First baseman Trevor Ezell laid down a sacrifice bunt to move them over for shortstop Casey Martin. Martin doubled to put the Hogs on top, and Matt Goodheart, who is batting .398, drove Martin in for the 3-1 lead.
“I thought we did just a really good job of staying calm,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of his Razorbacks’ hitting performance. “We were calm in the dugout. We knew what we were up against. We were up against a quality pitcher that doesn’t really give you a whole lot.
“We talked about when we get a chance to get him, we’ve got to get him because it might be one shot. We got a leadoff man on, then Franklin got the big two-strike hit, and we were kind of off and running there. Just a really good job by the offense of hanging in there and not getting too frustrated, and we put together a big inning.”
Campbell was splendid in setting the table for the victory, and his teammates came through for him and themselves to post what could prove to be a pivotal victory for the Razorbacks in their chase for the Western Division and overall title.
Going into tonight’s 6:30 second game, the Razorbacks (28-10, 10-6 SEC) and the Bulldogs (32-7,10-6) trail No. 11 Texas A&M (28-11-1, 10-5-1) by a half game after the Aggies defeated South Carolina, 8-2, Thursday night.
No. 18 Ole Miss (26-13, 9-7), No. 24 Auburn (25-13, 9-7), and No. 15 LSU (24-15, 9-7) trail the the Razorbacks and Bulldogs by a game in the West.
No. 4 Georgia (31-8, 11-5) leads the SEC overall by a half game over the Aggies and the East by 1.5 games over No. 6 Vanderbilt (28-9, 9-6).
By winning the first game, the Razorbacks give themselves a chance to maintain their pace in the West or perhaps do a bit better.
“Well, it’s always big to win the first one,” Van Horn said. “It gives you an opportunity to kind sit back and evaluate your pitching for the weekend. Our pitching, we’re still figuring it out a little bit. We’ve had a few guys banged up and we have [Jacob] Kostyshock back now. It’s just a good feeling, obviously. Your mindset now is if we find a way to win game one, we can win the series. If you lose that game, you tell your team you’re fighting and we can still win this series.”
Lefty Patrick Wicklander (3-1, 4.25) is the expected starter for tonight against Mississippi State with the Bulldogs expected to put right-hander Peyton Plumlee (2-2, 3.35) on the mound.