FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas needed no bullpen front-liners mowing down Oral Roberts and Southern Miss, 10-2 and 10-2 behind recent eight-complete inning starters Blaine Knight and Kacey Murphy in first Fayetteville Regional games Friday and Saturday, but needed relief every out to beat determined Dallas Baptist, 4-3 in Sunday night’s championship game before 9,775 at Baum Stadium.
With winning junior right-handed reliever Jake Reindl replacing struggling starter Isaiah Campbell on the game’s fourth batter with the bases loaded and then, throwing 97 pitches through the seventh inning, and lefty closer Matt Cronin surviving a controversial ninth for a two-inning save, coach Dave Van Horn’s hosting Razorbacks won the Fayetteville Regional.
They advance as a 42-18 national seed, hosting a Super Regional next weekend at Baum against the South Carolina versus North Carolina-Wilmington winner of the Greenville (South Carolina) Regional.
The winners of next week’s eight two out of three Super Regionals at Baum advance as the elite eight playing for the national championship at the College World Series in Omaha.
Van Horn feared DBU’s persistent Patriots, rebounding from a Friday night 9-0 first-round loss to Southern Miss to eliminate Oral Roberts, 18-9 Saturday afternoon and eliminate Southern Miss, 9-4 Sunday afternoon, perched on the verge of extending Arkansas to a winner-take all championship game Monday night after Campbell opened, walking Devlin Granberg and Jameson Hannah on full counts plus Jimmy Glowenke’s bases-loading single.
“Just had to make a quick decision,” Van Horn said. “I hated to make that move but I felt like, in the big picture, that’s what we had to do. Isaiah didn’t have command of his fastball whatsoever. I just feel great that Jake came in and kind of had my back. Because if he gives up a double and a couple of singles, then it wasn’t a very good move.”
Obviously, with scant warmup time, Reindl escaped that first inning allowing DBU just one run on Garrett Wolforth’s groundout.“I threw maybe six or seven down in the pen,” Reindl said. “Coach walked out and said, 'Hey, you're in.' I was like, ‘Here we go. It was really just kind of a bang-bang thing.”
Reindl allowed another infield out RBI in the second after a single, hit batsman and sac bunt.
He pitched out of a jams in the third and fourth. In the fifth with a strikeout, Reindl rescued left fielder Heston Kjerstad after Kjerstad’s two-out, two-base fly ball error.
Kjerstad rescued Reindl in the sixth. With a well-timed leap and reach over the fence, a soaring Kjerstad robbed Granberg of a would-be home run that by then would have tied, 3-3, the game that Arkansas led 3-2 after scoring one in the third and two in the fourth.
From the mound, Reindl tipped his hat Stage Left to Kjerstad.
“That was quite a catch,” Reindl said.“Off the bat I was like, ‘Yeah, that's probably gone. Yikes.’ Then, I saw him come down with the ball, and I gave him one of those (tipping his cap).”
Kjerstad deserved the plaudit, Dallas Baptist Coach Dan Heefner implied.
“Yeah, I thought it was a home run,” Heefner said. “Kjerstad timed it perfectly. He got to the ball perfectly, timed his jump and robbed him out of a home run.”
Gates, a catalyst Friday and Saturday against ORU and Southern Miss, was Arkansas’ first catalyst Sunday. He singled, leading off the third, advanced on Jax Biggers’ groundout, alertly swiped third on a delayed steal that caught DBU catcher Matt Duce dawdling, and scored on Eric Cole’s groundout.
Luke Bonfield and Dominic Fletcher successively singled with one out in the fourth.
Bonfield successfully avoided third baseman Keith Mallard’s tag on Bandy’s throw from right allowing Fletcher to take second.
Carson Shaddy’s groundout and Grant Koch’s single scored the runners before reliever McGregor Hines replaced Funderburk and blanked Arkansas until the seventh.
Gates again singled leading off. Cole singled him to second with one out. Kjerstad’s two-out single to center brought him home, up 4-2.
Opening the eighth, Cronin allowed a single while otherwise striking out the side, leaving Granberg leading off the ninth.
Granberg’s double tattooed the center field fence.
Hannah, the video on the scoreboard indicated, appeared thrown out on a grounder to shortstop Biggers but was ruled safe. The disputed call would have been video reviewed in an SEC game but there are no regionals replay reviews.
“At first, when I saw he called him safe, I was in shock,” Cronin said. “I almost lost it for a second, and then I remembered, 'You've got to stay cool. You just have to keep doing what you know you can do.”
So, Cronin did what he’s done 11 times previously in 2018, recording the final two outs for his season’s 12th save, saving a Super Regional for Arkansas to host.