OMAHA, Neb. – Stanford ace Alex Williams left the mound with his head down Saturday, glove in right hand, as his teammates lined up to offer consoling hand slaps in front of the third-base dugout. Meanwhile, Arkansas fans on the opposite side of Charles Schwab Field called the Hogs as their Razorbacks chased the Cardinal’s top starting pitcher fewer than five innings into the game.
Williams grabbed the Hogs’ attention on Thursday when he said, unprompted, that he would “take our offense over theirs any day. “Instead, Arkansas’ recently rejuvenated lineup showed why the Razorbacks look like the type of experienced, complete team that can finally break through and win coach Dave Van Horn’s first College World Series. Stanford had no chance as Arkansas tied its largest margin of victory of the season and won 17-2.
Everything has changed since the Razorbacks lost six of eight games entering Regionals.
“They’re not hitting to their numbers at this point,” said Stanford coach David Esquer. “They’re just playing better baseball.”
After suffering through that extended down period in May, Arkansas has broken out during the NCAA Tournament and looks like the elite team that Van Horn typically fields. No. 1 starter Connor Noland shook off five straight outings with four or more runs allowed to take off in June, and he cruised against Stanford’s deep lineup that includes seven hitters at .300 or better.
Noland did not just keep Stanford in check – for long stretches, he dominated the No. 2 overall seed. Through the fifth inning, Noland had thrown just 41 pitches. His counterpart at the time, Cardinal reliever Ryan Bruno, reached 30 pitches in just two-thirds of a frame. Noland departed the game in the eighth to a standing ovation from Arkansas’ section of the crowd – the entire stadium – and allowed Arkansas to preserve its top bullpen arms.
The lineup that supposedly did not measure up to Stanford’s? All nine Razorbacks notched at least one hit. They totaled 21 as a team. No. 9 hitter Zack Gregory went 2 for 5, and Stanford’s pitching staff never got a chance to catch his breath on a sweltering 94-degree afternoon. The merciless Hogs raced all the way through the finish line with a six-run ninth inning that easily gave them the highest-scoring output for a single team through three games in Omaha. Even the defense shined: second baseman Robert Moore ranged onto the left side of the infield dirt and heaved a perfect mid-air throw to first base for the first out of the ninth.
When Arkansas hits like this, the Hogs have no clear weaknesses. Van Horn has brought more successful teams to the CWS, only to come up short. Saturday’s beatdown produced another data point that suggests this is the year for the Omahogs to finally win it all.