FAYETTEVILLE — Whatever “number” that Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said the Ole Miss Rebels had beating Arkansas 10 of their last 14 meetings since 2016, the Rebels didn’t have Saturday past their second batter of the first inning.
For after Grae Kessinger’s solo home run, the Razorbacks scored 11 before Thomas Dillard’s ninth inning Ole Miss solo home run, and achieved an 11-2 Arkansas victory in Saturday’s first game of the best two of three Super Regional played before a paid ticket scanned 10,821 and fully paid 11,350 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
If the Razorbacks win Sunday’s 2 p.m. game on ESPNU, they will advance for the second consecutive year and 10th time in their history among the Elite Eight playing for the national championship at the College World Series in Omaha.
If coach Mike Bianco’s Rebels win Sunday, then the Razorbacks, 45-17, and Rebels, 45-26, will wage a 3 p.m. Monday ESPN2 televised battle winner goes to Omaha and loser sacks the bats.
After Kessinger’s home run, Arkansas junior ace Isaiah Campbell, now 12-1, shut out the Rebels until Dillard’s outcome harmless home run leading off the ninth.
For Campbell’s final Baum-Walker appearance, the soon to turn pro Seattle Mariners draft pick threw a career long 8.1 innings allowing but five hits striking out seven and walking and exiting to a standing ovation after retiring the next batter after Dillard.
Offensively, it turned out Arkansas’ four-run first extending Ole Miss starter Will Ethridge 45 pitches just that inning alone would have sufficed.
But the Hogs poured it on, adding two runs in the second three in the fourth, two charged to Ethridge and another two in the sixth.
Senior first baseman/leadoff hitter Trevor Ezell set the table for Ethridge’s long first inning with an eight-pitch at bat.
Ezell finished with a double and closed the game going 3 for 5 with two doubles and a home run and deprived of another home run because of Ole Miss center fielder Ryan Olenek’s outstanding leaping seventh inning catch above the wall’s home run line.
Matt Goodheart, 2 for 5 with a home run and three RBI, Casey Martin, 2 for 4 and two RBI, Dominic Fletcher 2 for 4, with Arkansas’ first RBI evening the score at 1-1, and Jack Kenley, the tie-breaking three-run home run in the first, contributed to an 11-hit Arkansas attack.
Bianco cut to the chase describing the Hogs hitting and Campbell’s pitching routing his Rebels.
“Just a tremendous game by them,” Bianco said. “Campbell was terrific today. Offensively they were terrific. When you get to this point everybody is really good and it comes down to playing well. And boy did they play well today.”
He didn’t wait to be asked how Ole Miss played.
“Unfortunately we were the opposite,” Bianco said. “We just didn’t have an answer on the mound. Offensively, Campbell was just too much for us. We couldn’t get any swings off, couldn’t get to his fastball today and he really just ran through us for eight innings. So really that was the ballgame.”
Van Horn concurred it was Arkansas’ day.
“Just a great job by our team overall,” Van Horn said. “Defense, offense, we were clicking pretty good. Fouling off a lot of pitches on two-strike swings and getting the pitch count up on Etheridge. And obviously Isaiah was really good today, locating and getting ahead. He gave up a solo home run the second hitter of the game and it didn’t faze him. He just kept the same approach.”
Striking out Tyler Keenan, the next hitter, had Campbell immediately back on course Bianco said.
“It (Kessinger’s home run) didn’t faze me at all,” Campbell said, “I just took a deep breath, got back in the strike zone and just kept taking it one pitch at a time.”
Though he’s been a persistent thorn in Arkansas’ side, Kessinger harbored no illusions his first-inning home run would stand up a game-winner against Campbell.
“Just because I got one out of the yard wasn’t going to mean he was going to give in,” Kessinger said. “He’s really good. In the eighth inning he was still throwing 95, 96 (miles per hour). He competed all the way to the end.”
Errorless defense, including two double plays, one turned by second baseman Kenley and shortstop Martin and another on a strikeout with catcher Casey Opitz throwing out a would-be base stealer helped too.
“Defensively they help you a lot,” Campbell said. “They are pitch-savers too.”
Campbell threw 102 pitches for 8.1, while Ethridge totaled 87 pitches without finishing the fourth inning.
Offensively, Arkansas sported spectacular efficiency scoring 11 runs with 11 hits.
“It’s huge getting run support,” Campbell said. “When you get run support, all I have to do is just go out there and throw strikes.”
Saturday’s success puts Arkansas one game away from Omaha but the Razorbacks and Rebels know well that Campbell opened their three-game SEC West series here beating the Rebels in March and that Ole Miss, the only SEC team to win a series from Arkansas at Baum-Walker, won the next two.
The Razorbacks respect the Rebels’ resilience.
“Just like last week, (going 3-0 over Central Connecticut State and TCU twice to win the Fayetteville Regional and advance to this Super Regional against Oxford Regional winner Ole Miss) I told the players after the secondI win they still hadn’t done anything,” Van Horn said. “It’s nice winning games, but I’ve been on both sides of it - coming back and winning them and not finishing them out.”
Still for Campbell, for whom Van Horn late game planned bringing in Marshall Denton with one out in the ninth to afford the packed house’s ovation, it was a reward for the fourth-year junior doing all he could do the last time doing it at Baum-Walker and tipping his cap to the applause.
“The tip of the cap was just to the fans, just sticking with us and this team and with me for four years,” Campbell said. “So, just saying thank you. A lot of emotions when I was walking off that mound, just seeing the fans giving me a standing ovation. It was awesome. I’m going to miss this place and everything, but we’ve still got unfinished business.”
For Saturday, Arkansas got in business with Ezell’s full-count double and Martin’s two-strike single putting runners at first and third.
“Two great at bats by Ezell and Martin to start the game,” Bianco said.
Goodheart, who would hit a two-run home run in Arkansas’ three-run home run, just missed a home run turned barely foul before striking out in the first, before Fletcher singled home Ezell.
Heston Kjerstad struck out but Kenley got one gone with the wind over right for the three-run home run.
Shortstop Kessinger’s error opening the second led to unearned runs driven home by Martin’s sacrifice fly and Goodheart’s groundout after Ezell’s double put runners at second and third.
A hit batsman and Martin’s RBI single off Ethridge preceded Goodheart’s two-run home run home run off reliever Tyler Myers.
Ezell hit his solo home run leading off Arkansas’ two-run sixth.
Freshman right-hander Connor Noland, of Greenwood, starts for Arkansas on Sunday against Ole Miss freshman lefty Doug Nikhazy.