(AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Pack your bags Hog fans. It’s on to Omaha, Neb. for the Arkansas Razorbacks where the College World Series awaits.
Using a recipe of clutch hitting, air-tight defense, and sizzling pitching, the Arkansas Razorbacks catapulted themselves back into the College World Series on Sunday with 4-3 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Chapel Hill (N.C.) Regional.
The Razorbacks (43-19) wrapped the series up in two games after staking a 4-1 victory on Saturday.
College World Series
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, June 18
Where: Omaha, Neb.
Two weeks ago almost everyone had counted the Hogs out after a late-season swoon that saw the Razorbacks fall out of the Top 10 and go 4-8 during a 12-game span.
However, the Razorbacks have got their groove back, playing excellent baseball the past two weekends at Stillwater, Okla. and at Chapel Hill, going 4-1 in NCAA Tournament play on foreign turf.
Van Horn summed it best after Sunday’s marathon game that suffered two lightning delays.
“Isn’t it great; It never gets old,” said the Hogs’ skipper, whose nine appearances in the College World Series — seven at Arkansas and two at Nebraska — are two more than any other active coach.
The sweetness this season stems not only from the Razorbacks pulling themselves out of that 4-8 slump but also from last year’s bitter loss to a hot North Carolina State squad in the Super Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium after being ranked No. 1 most of the season.
No doubt coming up short last year was playing on the minds of the Razorbacks when North Carolina took a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning after tying the game 2-2 in the seventh.
Razorback senior designated hitter Brady Slavens confirmed that in the post-game media conference after swatting the walk-off single when he related that fellow senior shortstop Jalen Battles, who led off the inning with a single and scored the tying run, told him before his at-bat, “This is what we came back for.”
Slavens, who often banks on his home-run power, drove the ball in the hole between first and second base to vanquish any doubts and chase away any demons haunting the Hogs’ after falling just short a year ago.
THIS TEAM ? pic.twitter.com/MLDeyqpZcs
— Arkansas Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) June 13, 2022
Along with Slavens, freshman first baseman Peyton Stovall came up big for the Hogs at the plate, going 3-for-4 on the day and advancing Battles to third in the ninth before Kendall Diggs drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases.
Third baseman Brayden Webb, who had 2 RBI on the day, then grounded out to score Battles to tie the game and set up Slavens’ his game-winning single.
Razorback starter Will McEntire kept the Tar Heels on their heels by pitching 5 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball, striking out four against two walks and three hits.
“I thought Will McEntire did a tremendous job for us right out of the gate,” Van Horn said.
McEntire, a sophomore, petitioned Van Horn for more playing time late in the season. The Hogs’ veteran mentor gave him a shot, and McEntire has made the most of it. He learned Sunday morning via text from Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs that he would get the start in Arkansas’ biggest game of the season thus far.
“I just knew I needed to do the job to get my team to Omaha,” McEntire said. “I was ready to go. I was excited. This is probably the best day of my life.”
North Carolina coach Scott Forbes congratulated the Razorbacks and Van Horn for the victory.
“I want to congratulate Arkansas,” Forbes said. “They’re a heck of a team. A heck of a season they’ve had. They play the right way. They play hard. They don’t showboat. They keep their mouths shut, and they play how baseball is supposed to be played.”
I might be reading too much into Forbes words, but his statement seemed to be commentary as much on the in-your-face, chest-thumping, championship ‘rasslin’ attitudes of squads like No. 1 Tennessee as congratulations to the Razorbacks.
The Vols won’t be joining the Razorbacks in Omaha this year after being upended by Notre Dame on Sunday, but at least two other SEC Western Division brethren will and possibly a third.
Texas A&M punched their ticket on Saturday by taking down Louisville, and Ole Miss won the proverbial Mississippi state title by beating Southern Miss to join the Hogs and Aggies in Omaha.
Auburn plays Oregon State for the right to advance to Omaha tonight at 6:30 on ESPN2.
Soon-to-be SEC members Texas and Oklahoma also won their way into the College World Series, underscoring just how dominant, competitive, and brutal the league will be once they are added to the conference roster in the near future.
The Razorbacks will be bracketed against the winner of today’s 3 p.m., ESPN2-televised Connecticut-Stanford game in the Hogs’ first game of the College World Series on Saturday. Game times have yet to be announced.