FAYETTEVILLE — Statistically, Arkansas Razorbacks pitchers Blaine Knight and Kacey Murphy can’t log a victory for Sunday since Knight last pitched Friday and Murphy last pitched Saturday.
But Arkansas fans ought at least acknowledge the asterisks.
Because Knight, bequeathing a 10-2 lead after eight complete innings for Cody Scroggins to finish in Friday afternoon’s Fayetteville Regional first round 10-2 victory over Oral Roberts at Baum Stadium, and Murphy bequeathing a 10-0 lead after eight complete innings Saturday night for relievers Caleb Bolden and Bryce Bonnin finishing the 10-2 second round victory over Southern Mississippi, figured in Arkansas’ 4-3 Sunday night championship game victory over Dallas Baptist.
Their effective endurance Friday and Saturday kept top relievers Jake Reindl and Matt Cronin fresh for Sunday.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn never needed them fresher. For the two recorded every out Sunday night upon Van Horn yanking starter Isaiah Campbell after two walks and a single loaded the bases before DBU’s cleanup hitter batted in the first inning.
Reindl extricated Arkansas from the bases loaded, no out jam to trail but 1-0 in the first. He pitched out of another jam down just 2-0 in the second.
Then, with help from left fielder Heston Kjerstad’s reach over the left fence depriving DBU’s Devlin Granberg of a sixth-inning home run, handed Cronin a 4-2 lead in the eighth.
DBU only could reduce that two-run lead to down one in the ninth before Cronin saved the 4-3 victory, advancing Arkansas to host the upcoming weekend’s best two of three Super Regional at Baum against SEC rival South Carolina, the winner over North Carolina-Wilmington in Monday’s Greenville (South Carolina) Regional hosted by East Carolina University.
DBU coach Dan Heefner presumes Campbell’s first-inning leash would not have been so tight had Van Horn previously pitched Reindl and Cronin on the weekend.
Van Horn also hadn’t used Barrett Loseke and Kole Ramage, his two next best out of the bullpen with one of the two the likely starter Monday night had DBU clawed again out of the loser’s bracket to force a winner take all championship game.
“That allowed them to do what they did with Campbell and it also allowed Reindl to go seven innings,” Heefner said. “Cronin was fresh and he had really good stuff.”
Certainly, it enhanced Arkansas’ already strong position playing at home as the undefeated team that had won Friday afternoon and Saturday night versus a Dallas Baptist Patriots team that, after taking a 9-0 pounding Friday night from Southern Miss, pounded Oral Roberts 18-9 Saturday afternoon and pounded Southern Miss, 9-4 Sunday afternoon and came back to take Arkansas to the wire before Cronin stranded the potential tying run after DBU scored in the ninth.
“That was huge,” Van Horn said Sunday night of the Knight and Murphy starts to Sunday’s finish. “Our starting pitchers gave us seven, eight innings each, and we had pretty good leads, so we got to go with some younger guys (finishing the ninth inning Friday and Saturday) and didn’t have to use really the three or four guys that we normally go to on the weekends. We still had Loseke available, so if it wouldn’t have finished really good today, we could have gone with Loseke as a starter, Kole Ramage as a starter. But, obviously, we had a two-run lead with six outs to get and we said, ‘Hey, we have to go for it.’ And we brought Matt in.”
It marked Cronin’s 12th save.
He needed his best arms armed and ready because DBU came ready to battle.
“First, I want to congratulate Dallas Baptist on just a tremendous season,” Van Horn said. “We've been on the other end of it when you have to play two games in one day. It's tough coming back for that second game and they gave us all we could handle. They really battled.
“They come out smoking and they really swung the bat well in their game yesterday and then, earlier today to knock off a really strong Southern Miss team that is known for their offense. It had me definitely on high alert. I knew we were going to get their best shot.”
A media member apparently didn’t quite comprehend.
Van Horn was asked in one of those statement/questions that while he obviously would prefer romping 10-2 again was it beneficial for the upcoming Super Regional having had to fight back against “a smaller school?”
“We don't look at them as a smaller school,” Van Horn replied matter of fact. “We just look at them as a really good team (the 42-21 Missouri Valley Conference runner-up with DBU outfielder Devlin Granberg named the tournament’s most outstanding player). It was just a great game and I feel fortunate to win it.”
Especially fortunate considering two pitchers who helped win it didn’t pitch in the game.