Arkansas uses sixth-inning rally, split by lengthy weather delay, to defeat Texas
With nearly three hours to think about the biggest at-bat of his career, Casey Martin sat for no more than 30 minutes. The rest of the time, he paced between the dugout and the Arkansas clubhouse.
The Razorbacks had a three-run lead on Texas. And with the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth inning, they had a chance to put their College World Series game out of reach once a lengthy delay ended.
Nearly anything that could go through the mind of the freshman third baseman did at some point.
What if he singled or doubled? What if he struck out or popped up? Maybe he would hit a home run.
“I thought about it for a good three hours,” Martin said. “Every minute we were out of that dugout, I thought about it. (Carson) Shaddy talked to me about. I had a lot of scenarios going through my head.”
With the game in the balance, the Longhorns turned to No. 2 starter Chase Shugart to get them out of the jam. Texas coach David Pierce thought if he could just keep it close, the Longhorns could battle back.
Martin jumped on Shugart’s first pitch and dumped an RBI single into left field. Four more run-scoring hits followed for the Razorbacks, who rode an eight-run surge to an 11-5 victory at TD Ameritrade Park.
“I just went up there and tried to be aggressive with the first pitch,” Martin said. “They were playing so deep, I was actually thinking before that at-bat, ‘It would be cool if I got a bloop and we score a couple of runs.’ The next thing you know, I got a little bloop and we scored. It was crazy how it worked out.”
Heston Kjerstad and Dominic Fletcher each had two-run singles in the outburst as Arkansas topped its former Southwest Conference rival for the third time in as many meetings this season. Luke Bonfield’s two-run home run, the first homer in this year’s CWS, put the Razorbacks up for good at 3-2 in the fifth inning.
Shaddy and former Iowa Western standout Jared Gates then opened the decisive sixth with back-to-back singles to chase Texas starter Nolan Kingham (8-5). Parker Joe Robinson came on and walked two batters, forcing in a run. Josh Sawyer replaced him and lost Eric Cole to a base on balls to plate another.
Martin was ready to come to the plate when lightning in the area forced the delay. Two hours, 49 minutes later, play resumed. Arkansas, which had 10 consecutive batters reach base, piled on afterward.
Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn looked at Martin and said, “It starts with you,” before his at-bat.
“My thinking was, I think at that time, we already scored a couple,” Van Horn said. “We had a three-run lead. Worst case for us, I wanted two of those. I wanted to get at least two more runs there.”
Arkansas got six instead and cruised into Tuesday’s 6 p.m. winners bracket game.
Razorbacks starter Blaine Knight, who left after five innings with a 3-2 lead, improved to 13-0 this season and 3-0 in the NCAA tournament. Arkansas had a nine-run cushion before Texas scored three late.
Kjerstad and Gates each had three of the 15 hits by the Razorbacks. Kjerstad drove in three runs, including two with the single that followed the hit by Martin that opened the flood gates in the sixth.
“Hindsight is a beautiful thing,” Pierce said. “You look back at that and you would really say, ‘Should have stuck with Nolan.’ But Parker Joe hadn’t walked two guys in the entire year back to back, and that’s what happened. And it just unraveled. We tried to get it settled down with Chase right there and finish the inning and just, again, they just continued to hit and created a huge deficit.”
Play of the game: Luke Bonfield hit the first home run in the College World Series off Texas starter Nolan Kingham in the fifth inning to give Arkansas the lead for good at 3-2. The 381-foot, two-run blast came with two outs and a runner at first base. It was Bonfield’s ninth long ball of the season.
Star of the game: Heston Kjerstad opened the scoring for Arkansas with an RBI single in the first inning to start a three-hit day in which he drove in three runs and scored twice. His two-run single in the eight-run sixth came shortly after the game resumed following a lengthy weather delay.
Great play: Arkansas third baseman Casey Martin took a potential extra-base hit away from Jake McKenzie with a backhanded stop while dropping to a knee in the second inning. Martin then did a reverse pivot and fired a throw that was dug out by first baseman Jared Gates to get the out.
Key decision: Even with a 1-2 count, Texas kept the bunt on for Ryan Reynolds with two on and no outs in the fifth inning. The sophomore third baseman came through by dropping a bunt toward third to advance the runners. David Hamilton followed with a sacrifice fly that gave the Longhorns a 2-1 lead.
Quirky moment: The weather delay lasted a long time. The rain that came down during it didn’t. That left fans scratching their heads when 2 1⁄2 hours into it, the grounds crew watered the infield.
Our take: Arkansas looks every bit like a team that could still be playing in Omaha next week. The Razorbacks had Texas on the ropes before the delay, then landed the knockout blows right after it.