By Robbie Neiswanger
By Robbie Neiswanger
Arkansas News Bureau
OMAHA, Neb. — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said his pitching staff was disappointed Friday night, believing it had let the Razorbacks down in the season-ending loss to South Carolina.
Three of Arkansas’ top pitchers — DJ Baxendale, Colby Suggs and Barrett Astin — issued a season-high tying nine walks in the 3-2 loss. While several were the result of some head-scratching work from home plate umpire Perry Costello, the free passes led to the game-tying and game-winning runs in the season-ending loss.
But it didn’t take long for Van Horn to defend them. He wanted them to know their performance had nothing to do with the season’s end.
“We wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for them,” Van Horn said. “It’s just the frustration, the things you can’t control. You just go out there and do the best you can and can’t control it. Sometimes it helps you and sometimes it hurts you. It could’ve gone either way (Friday).”
Arkansas said in the preseason its pitching staff would be the driving force in its hopes of reaching the College World Series and it proved true. In fact, pitching nearly guided Arkansas into the best-of-three championship series.
In the end, the Razorbacks finished the NCAA Tournament with a staff earned run average of 1.92. Arkansas finished its four-game stay in Omaha allowing just seven runs. Only one team (Baylor) scored more than four runs on the Razorbacks in an NCAA Tournament game.
“When you’re facing the best hitters and best teams in the nation, to give up only seven runs in the College World Series is unbelievable,” Arkansas third baseman Matt Reynolds said. “It shows what kind of arms we have.”
Said Van Horn: “They backed it up. And they backed it up all the way from the beginning of the year to the end. They didn’t falter.”
The College World Series helped Arkansas wrap up the season with 10 shutouts and a 2.83 earned run average, both of which rank second in school history. The 1976 Razorbacks hold the school record in ERA (2.74). The 1977 team holds the school record for shutouts in a season (13).
Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn, who has been with the program for 16 years, made it clear where he thinks the group ranks after the game.
“This is a good staff,” Jorn told Hawgs Illustrated. “The best I’ve ever had.”
The good news for Arkansas? Most will be back.
Baxendale will likely begin his pro baseball career after being selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 10th round of the Major League Baseball Draft. He said after the game he would take some time to decide, but later thanked fans via Twitter “for an amazing three years.”
Reliever Nolan Sanburn will likely sign after being selected in the second round. So, too, could junior left-hander Randall Fant.
But five other College World Series pitchers — Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin, Brandon Moore, Colby Suggs and Trent Daniel — are slated to return. They’ll form the nucleus of a group that should remain strong as the Razorbacks build around pitching again. There’s no doubt Arkansas must improve offensively next season, but the Razorbacks will continue to count on its arms.
“I know we’re going to have four or five of these really good arms back,” Van Horn said. “We hope we can keep a couple more and obviously we need a couple of guys to develop and come on.”
No matter who ends up as valuable contributors, it will be hard to top what the 2012 Arkansas pitching staff accomplished. They may have fallen short of their championship aspirations Friday, but it’s clear they’ll be remembered as one of the best staffs in the program’s history.
“They carried the team this year,” Reynolds said. “So there’s no reason for them to hang their heads. They did a great job.”