FAYETTEVILLE — The Razorbacks roster includes four named Preseason All-Americans living up to their billing contributing mightily to a 46-17 Arkansas baseball team bound for the College World Series in Omaha.
Yet, great as sophomore shortstop Casey Martin, sophomore right fielder Heston Kjerstad, junior center fielder Dominic Fletcher and junior closer Matt Cronin were in leading last year’s Razorbacks to be the CWS national runner-up in Omaha and back to Omaha again, the Razorbacks’ MVPs for their Super Regional advance to Omaha triumphs over Ole Miss would be none of the above.
Certainly Isaiah Campbell for his 8.1 innings five-hitter in Saturday’s 11-2 triumph at Baum-Walker Stadium over Ole Miss is one MVP.
Given Saturday’s success upped second-round Seattle Mariners draft choice Campbell to 12-1, going into his starting Arkansas’ CWS opener at 6 p.m. Saturday against the Florida State Seminoles, that MVP performance hardly surprises.
However, the Monday pitching MVP performance of junior right-hander Cody Scroggins and senior first baseman Trevor Ezell, Arkansas’ unofficial press row consensus position player Super Regionals MVP, amaze given their freshman roots.
Local boys Scroggins of Bentonville, and Ezell of Bryant, are not among the coveted out of high school recruits that Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and his staff signed.
A 2016 freshman, Scroggins joined as an infielder and not playing much or hitting much, .216 in 16 games on the only losing team Van Horn ever coached.
Late that misbegotten year Van Horn and since retired pitching coach Dave Jorn reminded a struggling Scroggins he registered high on the radar gun those days he pitched at Bentonville High when not playing infield.
Quite a move that proved.
Relieving struggling starter Patrick Wicklander down 1-0 with two out in the second but runners at second and third via consecutively a hit batsman walk and a wild pitch Scroggins struck out No. two-hole hitting Rebel Ryan Olenuk and logged the 14-1 victory skunking the Rebels for 4.1 with just two harmless hits versus eight strikeouts and no walks.
“Cody getting that out was the difference in being down one instead of down three,” Van Horn said. “Cody goes out throwing the ball really well. And then he did it again and again and again. Cody was the MVP of the game.”
Of course it made Van Horn think back to the struggling infielder in 2016 now armed for a pro pitching future as a ninth-round Boston Red Sox draft choice.
“We were doing some infield drills and I just loved his arm,” Van Horn recalled. “I said, ‘I saw you pitch in high school. I think you might be able to help us on the mound a little bit.’ He threw a bullpen that evening. He kind of went from there became a pitcher.
You can’t rosily say the rest was history.
Scroggins injured his elbow and required Tommy John surgery in 2017, his first season attempted pitching full time.
Recovered from the surgery and still re-learning to pitch under now Minnesota Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson, Scroggins last year was registered into the 90s on the gun.
He impacted for 15.2 innings of middle relief, especially in last year’s Super Regional against South Carolina.
This season, under new pitching coach Matt Hobbs, Scroggins got off to a great start as a starter but then was idled by bicep soreness. He returned in relief.
On given days in given innings, Scroggins’ stuff rates the best of the bunch including Campbell and Cronin.
Monday marked one of them.
Asked what was Scroggins’ “out” pitch Monday, Arkansas catcher Casey Optiz couldn’t name one.
“His fastball and his slider and his changeup,” Opitz said. “All three of his pitches.”
Van Horn still kicks himself for not recruiting Ezell out of Bryant until the then since muscled up middle infielder had already committed to Southeastern Missouri State.
Last summer, Ezell put his name in the NCAA’s graduate transfer portal.
Even while in Omaha with his Hogs, Van Horn wasn’t going to kick himself a second time.
“I remember sitting in Omaha for two weeks calling him like every other day saying, ‘Don’t do anything. We’re here,’” Van Horn said. “During that time, he visited a couple other schools. It was huge when he committed here. He was our biggest recruit in the summer.”
The leadoff switch-hitting former middle infielder become All-SEC Defensive team first baseman proved how big his recruitment was all season. Especially in the Super Regional.
For his three games against Ole Miss, Ezell Saturday went 3 for 5 with two doubles, a home run and robbed of another home by center fielder Olenuk’s leaping catch, Sunday 1 for 4 with a double and a run scored, and 3 for 5 Monday including the two-strike, RBI single during the four-run second that Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco called the game’s biggest at bat.
“The man’s on a mission,” Van Horn said. “He wanted to go to Omaha.”