By Robbie Neiswanger
By Robbie Neiswanger
Arkansas News Bureau
OMAHA, Neb. — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn made up his mind Wednesday morning, selecting his starting pitcher for tonight’s game.
Left-hander Randall Fant will be on the mound as Arkansas tries to secure a spot in the College World Series’ championship series
The reason for the choice? There are many, but above all else is this: Why change a formula which has been working so well?
“We’re going to just keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Van Horn said Wednesday.
Arkansas’ pitching staff has been the talk of the town through two games in TD Ameritrade Park and will try to hurl the Razorbacks (46-20) one step closer to a championship when they play the South Carolina/Kent State winner at 8 tonight. The Gamecocks and Golden Flashes will play their elimination game at 11 a.m. after rain postponed the scheduled game Wednesday night.
So far, four Arkansas pitchers have allowed two runs on eight hits in Omaha, turning in one of the best starts for a pitching staff in the College World Series the past 35 years.
Only two other teams have allowed two runs or less during the first two games in Omaha since 1976. A third tonight likely assures Arkansas of a spot in next week’s championship series.
“It’s pretty nice when we feel like we can score one or two runs and have a chance to win it every night,” said Arkansas outfielder Matt Vinson, who had the game-winning RBI in the 2-1 win against South Carolina on Monday night. “That’s pretty good on the hitters.
“We feel like if we score two or three runs we’re going to win.”
The staff has been such a big part of Arkansas’ success all season, but it’s clear the group has cranked it up a notch the past two weeks. The Razorbacks have allowed two runs in 32 1/3 innings, dating back to the second game of the Waco Super Regional.
They have allowed one run or less in five of their eight NCAA Tournament games.
“If they pitch themselves into jams, they pitch themselves right out of them,” Arkansas first baseman Dominic Ficociello said. “It’s a common thing. It’s kind of expected now.”
None of the runs in Omaha have been allowed by the bullpen, which has now combined to throw 16 straight scoreless innings in the postseason. Relievers Brandon Moore and Barrett Astin have been outstanding, allowing two hits in 5 2/3 innings the past two games.
“If we run into a jam, we’re going to make the call to the bullpen and they’re going to be able to back us up and get us out of it,” Arkansas starter D.J. Baxendale said. “Our bullpen has done a great job. Not only in the regular season, but have come up pretty huge here in the postseason. Especially in Omaha.”
The early success to open the College World Series means Arkansas’ staff now is in great shape for the long haul. Relievers like Nolan Sanburn, Colby Suggs and Trent Daniel are still waiting for their first appearances.
They could get their chance tonight with Fant on the mound. The left-hander hasn’t thrown more than five innings in a start a start since March 10, working well in a role in which he is asked to go through the order once before turning it over to the bullpen.
It has been an effective plan lately. Fant has not allowed a run in three starts, a stretch that spans 12 1/3 innings pitched.
“Randall, he’s a guy that gives us three to five innings,” Van Horn said. “If he gives us three innings that’s fine. If it’s two, that’s fine. We’ve got everybody ready in the bullpen and we get D.J. another day’s rest.”
An Arkansas win would send the Razorbacks into the championship series, assuring them of no worse than a second-place finish in Omaha. The last time that happened was Arkansas’ first trip in 1979, when the Razorbacks won their first three games before losing two straight to Cal State Fullerton.
A loss tonight means the teams will play once again Friday with the winner advancing to the series, which will begin Sunday night.
Either way, the Razorbacks will continue to lean on their pitching staff as they chase the program’s first national championship.
“They’re probably the reason we’re here, being able to throw as many shutout innings and being as lights out as they have,” second baseman Bo Bigham said. “That’s a big plus for us. We’re just got to keep going.”