The Arkansas Razorbacks faced a stinging loss Monday that ended their stay at the College World Series after reaching the Mecca of college baseball for back-to-back seasons for the first time in the program’s history.
The Razorbacks just didn’t have enough at the plate or on the mound Monday to overtake the Texas Tech Red Raiders in a 5-4 loss that was nip and tuck until Arkansas’ final out at TD Ameritrade Park.
Ironically, Texas Tech belted three home runs in the game to overpower Arkansas, similar to the way the Razorbacks overpowered opponents last year as they made their way to the championship series before an eventual runner-up finish to Oregon State.
The single-run loss to the Red Raiders compounded the frustration over a 1-0 loss to Florida State in the Razorbacks’ CWS opener last Saturday night.
“Well, obviously it was a tough loss,” said Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, who has led the Razorbacks to seven of their 10 College World Series appearances. “Pretty well-played game by both teams. For the most part, there really wasn’t too many mistakes. Just kind of who got the big hit and who didn’t. But just some big hits. Texas Tech took advantage of a couple of things, and tough loss, two tough losses here for us. Two one-run losses that really could have gone either way.”
The Razorbacks jumped on top on a first-pitch, second-inning, solo home-run by Heston Kjerstad in the second inning, and tacked on two more runs in the third, but Camren Warren all but whipped away the Hogs’ lead with one swing of the bat for a two-run homer in the fourth. Razorback starter Connor Noland fnished out the inning, but his day was done.
Texas Tech pitcher Caleb Kilian kept the Hogs at bay going seven innings, frustrating the Hogs efforts most of the day.
Arkansas gave up home runs in the fifth and sixth inning to Red Raiders Easton Murrell and Josh Jung to fall behind, 4-3. The Hogs tied the game in the eighth when a sacrifice fly by Jack Kenley sent Dominic Fletcher home, but the Hogs could gain no further traction.
In the bottom of the eighth, Texas Tech’s Cody Masters belted a triple that drove in Warren, who had walked, for the 5-4 victory.
The Razorbacks rallied in the ninth when freshman third baseman Jacob Nesbit reaching after being hit by a pitch, and freshman left fielder Christian Franklin swatted a single to move him in scoring position with no outs. However the Hog’s rally died there.
Despite not having the success Van Horn had hope for this team at the CWS, he came away proud of what the squad had accomplished.
“You know, just really proud of the team,” Van Horn said. “Told them that after the game. Told them to walk out of there with their head high. We were real close to winning two games. We ended up losing two one-run games. Kind of hard to swallow. But overall it was a really good year, getting a part of the Western Division championship and getting back here, just proud of them and appreciated the effort they gave us all year. Those guys showed up every day and worked hard, smiled a lot, and it made it fun to work with them. I just appreciate the effort.”
Emotions were raw for the Razorbacks, dealing with such an abrupt end to their season. However, sophomore shortstop Casey Martin, who went 2 for 5 in the game with a double and a triple, didn’t lose perspective on what the Hogs’ accomplished this season, finishing 46-20 with a share of the SEC Western Division title.
“I thought we had an outstanding year, being counted out from the beginning,” Martin said. “We bring in some new guys. Trevor Ezell did more than outstanding for us, and he’s a competitor. Without bringing guys in like that, true leaders for this team, I guess you just could say such a young team we have, that it shows these younger guys what it takes to get here. So they’ve experienced it now, and they know what it takes. We needed that, and I think we’ll be good if we can build off that.”
Kjerstad, also a sophomore, focused more on the Hogs’ accomplishments this season and what it took for the Hogs to return to the CWS with a team that was expected to be competitive but to finish near the bottom of the SEC West.
“We had a spectacular year getting back here for the second year in a row, but it shows a lot about the incoming guys that came in and replaced a lot of the starters and experience we had from last season,” Kjerstad said. “It took everyone on our whole roster to get us here, and it was just great to be back, and we’ll look back on the season and realize how good we were for the whole season, how good of an experience we had. But for now it’s obviously a little bitter once the season is over.”