After the historically high-scoring Stillwater Regional that brought Shakespearean levels of drama, the Arkansas Razorbacks (42-19) advanced to the Super Regionals in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels (42-21) in a best of three series.
The Razorbacks came out swinging in Game 1 of the NCAA Chapel Hill Super Regional to take a 4-1 win over North Carolina.The Razorbacks are now one victory away from punching their ticket to the College World Series for the 11th time in program history. Arkansas can clinch the Chapel Hill Super Regional with a win on Sunday or, if necessary, Monday.
No doubt, Arkansas has kept up its momentum gained from Stillwater. The Razorbacks had struggled down the stretch, but put it all back together to advance past an Oklahoma State team with a blazing hot lineup in a stadium that allowed a record-setting amount of home runs.
That hot hitting continued on Saturday, when freshman Peyton Stovall hit a leadoff homer in the 5th inning to put Arkansas up 1-0. That came during a torrid stretch of pitching by the Razorbacks’ Connor Noland, who ending up throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings with six strikeouts, improving to 7-5 on the season while logging his ninth quality start of the year.
The veteran right-hander threw 61 of 89 pitches for strikes while allowing only six hits and a walk. You have to give Connor Noland credit,” North Carolina baseball coach Scott Forbes said afterward. “I thought in that first inning when Mikey squared up that ball and it hit off him and they got out of it, that was a big play for them and proved to be a really big play to keep us off the board for probably two runs.”
“He had an electric slider today,” Tar Heel Danny Serretti added. “It kept us off balance. It’s tough to hit when you’ve got your best pitch rolling.”
Peyton Stovall Delivers for Arkansas Baseball
After Stovall’s blast over the right wall in the 5th inning, Zack Gregory and Braydon Webb reached. Brady Slavens then stepped up to the plate and collected his first of two runs batted in on the day.
The Razorback designated hitter ripped a single to center, bringing home Gregory to extend the lead to 2-0.
Cayden Wallace capped the fifth-inning rally with a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Webb from third as Arkansas took control of the ballgame by opening a 3-0 advantage.
Back-to-back walks to Gregory and Webb, who finished the afternoon with a team-leading three hits in the leadoff spot, to begin the top of the seventh gave Slavens yet another RBI opportunity. He did not disappoint, poking one back up the middle to score Gregory from third and put the Hogs ahead, 4-0.
The run support was more than enough for Noland and the Razorback bullpen. While North Carolina got one back in the bottom of the eighth on a solo home run, Evan Taylor (1.1 IP, 1 SO) and Hagen Smith (1.1 IP, 1 SO) locked down the final 2 1/3 innings in relief to secure Arkansas’ 4-1 win.
Smith, who has been the Hogs’ No. 2 starter for most of the year, earned his second career save on Saturday. The true freshman recorded his first career save against Oklahoma State in the NCAA Stillwater Regional final on Monday.
First pitch between Arkansas and North Carolina in Sunday’s game is set for noon CT on either ESPN or ESPN2. (Razorback Communications)
North Carolina Baseball’s Boshamer Stadium
The Hogs and Tar Heels are battling in a smaller venue at Boshamer Stadium with a listed capacity of 4,100 and overflow capacity of 5,000. This smaller venue, however, comes with complications as UNC will not sell general tickets until the day of game 1 – Saturday – and only standing room tickets are left after season ticket holders and Arkansas’ allotted tickets are taken. (Arkansas’ allotted 600 tickets includes the team’s family and friends.)
This announcement, since removed from UNC baseball’s Twitter page, set off a flurry of complaints from North Carolina fans who felt like they were being priced out of attending the game (the cheapest available ticket on StubHub as of Friday morning was $195). Central to some of the complaints is that North Carolina, like so many other big universities, has made annual donations to a booster club a requirement to purchase tickets.
In North Carolina’s case, it’s a minimum of $100 per year given to the “Ram’s Club,” which hardly mentions baseball perks on its official benefits chart. (Not surprisingly, basketball, and to a lesser extent football, take center stage.)
“It’s so sad that Rams Club and certain season ticket holders buy up all of the tickets, and then sell them online for $250 each,” Tweeted North Carolina baseball fan Glenn Catlett. “I’ve been to 80% of the home games, all ACC Championship games and Regional, but because I’m not a season ticket holder, I can’t go. Simple greed.”
He continued: “It is greed if you buy season tickets, without any intention to ever go to a game. It’s taking advantage of people. I wonder how many of the Rams Club members doing this have been to 1 baseball game this year.”
This essentially means that the rich get richer, only this time they profit in the live experience of supporting their beloved team. “Tar Holes have to take care of their wine and cheeser boosters first and foremost,” openly biased “GatorPhil” commented on Saturday Down South. “It’s always been that way. Heck, their student section in the Dean Dome was in the upper deck before Roy Williams came in as HC and demanded that it be moved.”
In the short term, in terms of this series, such restrictions actually play in favor of the Razorbacks assuming not as many raucous UNC students and fans can get into stadium because of the cheese and wine types who have bought up access.
Bigger picture, though, this is a national issue that has also affected Arkansas. Every year, it seems, passionate fans of modest means are getting priced out of college sports venues.
Arkansas vs North Carolina Game 2
Time: 12:00 p.m. CT Sunday, June 12
(Mike Morgan (play-by-play) and Gaby Sanchez (analyst)
UNC: LHP Brandon Schaeffer
Game 2 Prediction:
Arkansas could go with freshman Hagen Smith to be the game two starter once again, but his success out of the bullpen Monday could see him in a similar role this weekend. Or it could have given Dave Van Horn the confidence in him to let him start Sunday.
Schaeffer was also struggling to end the regular season. He wasn’t great in the regional either. But his one appearance in the ACC Tournament was a masterpiece. He shut out one of the best teams in the country in 4-seed Virginia Tech.
For both pitchers, it depends which version of them shows up Sunday, should they be the starters. Arkansas could also go with Will McEntire or Zack Morris in games two and three.
The games have been crazy all tournament for both teams, but mostly the Razorbacks. That is a trend that should continue. I expect game two to be a bit less high-scoring than Saturday, however.
Score Prediction: UNC wins 8-5
Arkansas vs North Carolina Game 3 (if necessary)
Time: TBD Monday, June 13
Game 3 Prediction:
Arkansas could go with Wiggins here to go with the usual rotation or he could use McEntire, Morris or Smith here depending on how the series goes.
Left-handed Will Sandy started game three for the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament and in the regionals. He allowed one run over four innings between the two starts. His season long outing is four innings, which he did twice, once against Elon and against Charleston Southern.
With Sandy not going deep into meaningful games and Wiggins or Smith being pulled on the short leash, this will likely be a bullpen game for both teams. Both teams have multiple arms to use and may need all of them.
Score Prediction: Arkansas Wins 10-7
Arkansas vs North Carolina Series Prediction
Knowing Arkansas athletics, the Razorbacks will put their fans’ hearts to the test and force a game three. There are never any easy series or moments to relax when Arkansas is involved.
The heart attack Hogs put on a dramatic performance in the regionals, but pulled it out and I expect them to do the same in the Super Regionals at Chapel Hill.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys were the No. 7 National seed while North Carolina is No. 10. The Razorbacks basically played a Super Regional with them in what the ESPN commentators who couldn’t get enough of Roc Riggio were calling a Super Regional within a regional.
They played three nights in a row, winning the first and third matchups. The victory over Missouri State Sunday afternoon possibly gave the Cowboys a chance to warm up before the game with Arkansas they eventually won instead of tiring them out.
This weekend should be a lot like last weekend with two very talented teams and two hot offenses. It should go three games.
Arkansas looks to be clicking on all cylinders right now, or at least the offense does. Matching that with the wizard of baseball Dave Van Horn is a recipe for Omaha.
Similar Situation with Arkansas Baseball
Quite a few Arkansas baseball fans were unhappy when the UA announced last year a change in seating priority at Baum Stadium, which has a listed capacity of 11,129. All seats in Sections 107-109 behind home plate now require a minimum annual donation of $10,000, a requirement beginning in the 2022 season. “Other starting donation points for seats in the stadium are $100, $500, $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000,” Whole Hog Sports’ Matt Jones reported. “Previously some chair-back seats were available without a donation requirement.”
Last year, Yurachek said he expected to lose some season-ticket holders over the change, but added there are enough people on a waiting list to offset any losses. “We are past time where we needed to do this in Baum-Walker Stadium,” Yurachek said. “Yes, there is some pain and there are some loyal season-ticket holders who have sat in the same seats at Baum-Walker Stadium for 25 years who feel like they’re being pushed out. They’re not being pushed out. They may be asked to change where their seat location is, but they’re not being pushed out of Baum-Walker Stadium.”
Another new change in 2022 was making UA students pay for access to the Hog Pen, a grassy berm area beyond the left-field wall. Before this past season, students could get into the Hog Pen with only a student ID but now they cannot get into that area without first a) paying for a $100 pass ahead of time and b) request individual game tickets each Sunday during the season. On top of that, no more than 1,500 students are allowed in the Hog Pen (there was no previous cap).
Most students understand the market demand that led that to these changes, but some still bemoan the extra hoops they now have to jump. “If I paid for an access pass, I should not have to request tickets to every game,” Jonah Storey told the Arkansas Traveler. “The email to get tickets goes straight to the student’s (‘other’) folder so they don’t even see the email to request tickets. The UofA created their own problem and now they have to deal with it.”
Preview of Arkansas vs North Carolina
Published before Game 1
Arkansas ended the year 8-11 over the last 19 games and 1-5 in the last six. The offense was not producing and the pitching was suddenly shaken. Arkansas only scored 4.3 runs per game during those final six games.
Against Oklahoma State, the Arkansas baseball bats seemed rejuvenated and the clutch gene that helped them dominate all of 2021 reappeared for the Hogs. Arkansas’ 11 runs per game while in Stillwater and six different players left the yard at least once.
Both sides’ pitchers mostly struggled last weekend, but perhaps a change of scenery will allow the pitchers to settle back into a groove.
Senior catcher Michael Turner led Arkansas to victory, winning Stillwater Regional MVP in his efforts. Everyone’s favorite “rental player” had a big impact in every game. Overall he hit 8-18 with two home runs and 11 RBIs.
He had three RBIs in the win over Grand Canyon and came up clutch against Oklahoma State in all three contests. Turner knocked in four runs and hit a home run that sparked the comeback Saturday and hit a massive go-ahead two-run home run in the 8th inning Sunday night in what ended up a 10-inning loss. He also provided two much needed insurance runs in the top of the ninth of the decisive game seven on Monday.
Sophomore third baseman Cayden Wallace continued his hot streak throughout the Regional. In addition to showing off his glove and strong arm on the hit corner, Wallace hit 6-17 with four long balls and eight runs batted in. His power streak is now at nine home runs in the past 11 games.
Senior shortstop Jalen Battles has also been hitting well as of late. Over the past 13 games, he is batting .375 and he came up with two big hits in Stillwater. He crushed a massive grand slam in the win Saturday and had a two-run single in the decisive win Monday.
The bottom of the order was huge for Arkansas in the game seven victory. Battles and freshman first baseman Peyton Stovall combined to drive in four of the team’s seven runs.
Stovall found his swing again while in Oklahoma. He was one of a number of starters struggling to hit at the end of the season, but the preseason All-American batted .500 for the Regional and drove in two clutch runs Monday.
About half of the lineup had been in a bad slump the last couple weeks before the tournament started, including junior second baseman Robert Moore and senior designated hitter Brady Slavens.
Moore was not quite back to 2021 form but “Big Hit Bob” poked his head out on Saturday, hitting two home runs including a two-run shot that bounced off the top of the wall and into the bullpen which cut the Cowboys’ lead in half.
Slavens did not have a fantastic weekend but he got two balls to fly out of the yard and tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday with a two-run knock.
|.274 avg 14 hr 38 rbi .956 ops
|4-18, 2 rbi
|5-26 since start of SEC Tournament
|.252 avg 15 hr 52 rbi .880 ops
|4-17 2 hr 5 rbi
|4-23 last 7 games before Regional
|.299 avg 15 hr 56 rbi .955 ops
|6-17 4 hr 8 rbi
|9 hr 17 rbi in last 11 games
|.310 avg 9 hr 48 rbi .886 ops
|8-18 2 hr 11 rbi
|7-43 in 10 games before Regional
|.323 avg 8 hr 33 rbi .921 ops
|6-16 1 hr 4 rbi
|Currently on a 9-game hit streak, hitting 15-37(.405)
|.228 avg 8 hr 42 rbi .797 ops
|3-16 2 hr 4 rbi
|4-24 since start of the SEC Tournament
|.293 avg 10 hr 43 rbi .851 ops
|6-18 1 hr 6 rbi
|18-48(.375) with 3 hr 15 rbi over last 13 games
|.275 avg 4 hr 20 rbi .759 ops
|8-16 2 rbi
|2-19 in 6 games before Regional
|.232 avg 5 hr 16 rbi .851 ops
|5-44 last 19 games, with 8 bb and 9 hbp
The North Carolina Tar Heels bring an explosive lineup to the Super Regionals with a team average of .288 and three players having 18 or more home runs while Arkansas has none.
The Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the country right now. They are 19-3 coming into the Super Regionals, including going 4-0 and winning the ACC tournament and going 4-1 to win the Chapel Hill Regional.
UNC put up 10 runs per game and played in two elimination games on Sunday to win its regional.
At the end of April, it was a long shot that North Carolina would play in the tournament, they had just gotten swept at Virginia for their fifth consecutive series loss and had a conference record of 8-13,but they pushed through and ended up becoming the No. 10 National seed.
They are led by freshman center fielder Vance Honeycutt. He mashed all season, hitting .292 with 24 home runs and 56 RBIs. He also swatted three homes and seven RBIs over the weekend. He is coming into the supers on a similar streak to Cayden Wallace. He also has nine dingers in the last 11 games with 21 RBIs as well.
The duo of Honeycutt and junior shortstop Danny Serrentti makes the middle of the order very dangerous. Serretti is on a major hot streak. He has hits in 35 of his last 38 games, batting .408 in that stretch. He also hit three home runs over the weekend with nine RBIs.
Leadoff batter and junior right fielder Angel Zarate is hitting .438 in his last 13 games with four round-trippers and 12 RBIs. He more than doubled his home run total during the recent stretch.
Sophomore third baseman has three home runs and 16 RBIs in the last 11 games to go with a .356 average in that stretch. All of the top four batters got the UNC lineup had eight or more hits in the regional.
The bottom half of the lineup is less potent than the top four batters.
Sophomore designated hitter Alberto Osuna has 20 round trippers but has not been producing over the recent stretch. In his past 10 games, he has one home run and six RBIs. He had the second least amount of hits for starters over the weekend in the North Carolina lineup.
The lone bright spot in the bottom half of the Tar Heels lineup lately is senior left fielder Mikey Madej. He is currently in a 14-game hit streak where is hitting .429, including his 9-24 in the regionals where he also drove in eight runs.
The bottom three of the order have all been struggling. The sophomore trio of catcher Tomas Frick, first baseman Johnny Castagnozzi and second baseman Colby Wilkerson have not been producing many hits. They did however combine to hit three home runs and drive in eight runs over the weekend.
The Tar Heels utilized the same starting lineup in the final four games of their regional, but they had sophomore Hunter Stokely play first on Friday. He was 1-5 over the weekend but has a respectable .293 average on the year with two home runs and 25 RBIs.
|.360 avg 7 hr 40 rbi .947 ops
|10-26 1 hr 5 rbi
|28-64(.438) with 4 hr 12 rbi in last 13 games
|.273 avg 18 hr 53 rbi .961 ops
|8-23 2 hr 6 rbi
|16-45(.356) 3 hr 16 rbi in last 11 games
|.365 avg 10 hr 54 rbi 1.008 ops
|8-25 3 hr 9 rbi
|Hit safely in 35 of the last 38 games, batting .408. 5 hr in last 11 games.
|.292 avg 24 hr 56 rbi 1.063 ops
|8-21 3 hr 7 rbi
|.381 avg 9 hr 21 rbi in last 11 games
|.265 avg 20 hr 57 rbi .926 ops
|5-18 1 hr 4 rbi
|1 hr 6 rbi in last 10 games
|.329 avg 4 hr 25 rbi .884 ops
|9-24 1 hr 8 rbi
|Currently on a 14-game hit streak, batting .421
|.264 avg 3 hr 33 rbi .726 ops
|7-17 2 hr 2 rbi
|3-22 in 6 games before Regional
|.261 avg 10 hr 30 rbi .820 ops
|2-15 1 hr 4 rbi
|3-26 in 11 games before regional
|.193 avg 0 hr 4 rbi .589 ops
|6-14 2 rbi
|10-48(.208) since becoming a starter on 5/11
Arkansas Baseball Pitching
The Razorbacks have had a steady rotation throughout most of the season with senior Connor Noland, freshman Hagen Smith and sophomore Jaxon Wiggins pitching in that order over the weekend.
The last few weeks have complicated that as each of them have struggled lately. Smith and Wiggins have been getting pulled at first signs of trouble in recent weeks.
Noland had a sub-three ERA for most of the year but recent struggles have ballooned his ERA up to 4.13 over his 93.2 innings. He allowed 22 runs over 26 innings in five starts before the Stillwater Regional. He then went seven strong innings against Grand Canyon that may have helped him regain some confidence. He also allowed three runs in 0.1 innings on Sunday night, but the Oklahoma State offense was not going to be stopped by anyone it seemed.
Smith has a 4.89 ERA over 70 innings and Wiggins has a 6.12 ERA over 64.2 innings. Both have 79 strikeouts in the year.
Smith had been struggling late in the year. In his last two starts he combined to allow seven runs over four innings. Despite the struggles, Hagen Smith
pitched two scoreless innings of relief to close out the decisive game seven in the Stillwater Regional including punching out one of the hottest hitters on the planet with the bases loaded.
Wiggins has allowed eight runs over 2.2 innings in his last two starts combined. He did have a scoreless inning of relief in the SEC tournament between those starts.
The Razorbacks have six main pitchers they call on out of the bullpen or to maybe start a game.
Freshman closer Brady Tygart was dominant for most of the season, but in his last three appearances he has allowed eight runs over 2.2 innings. Part of it is the scorching lineup of Oklahoma State, but he has not been the dominant strike-thrower he was most of the year.
Redshirt sophomore Will McEntire has emerged as a reliable arm down the stretch. He has a 3.25 ERA over 36 innings with six starts mixed in his 10 appearances. He has a 2.77 ERA in his four long relief appearances including a 5.1 inning outing where he limited OSU to three runs which is very good compared to other pitchers’ efforts.
Junior left-handed Zack Morris also appears to be one of the more reliable options. He has a 1.91 ERA over 33 innings and started the decisive game on Monday. He worked 6.1 innings over two outings against the Cowboys and held them to two runs. He may have earned a spot start or increased roll come Super Regionals time.
The other names who will likely see the mound this weekend are seniors Kole Ramage, Zebulon Vermillion and Evan Taylor.
Taylor has been the most reliable middle reliever all season, but suffered a tough outing Saturday, allowing four runs in an inning but did not allow any earned runs Sunday in 1.1 innings. His 3.38 SRA over 37.1 innings was in the mid-two’s before facing the Cowboys.
North Carolina Baseball Pitching
The Razorbacks are not the only team that can pitch. The Tar Heels have a good array of arms at their disposal as well.
UNC has a good pitching staff to go along with their talented lineup. They have two proven starters and a number of reliable arms in the bullpen. The Tar Heels have 12 pitchers on roster with over 20 innings pitched this year while the Razorbacks have only nine.
Their two main starters are sophomore righty Max Carlson and junior left-hander Brandon Schaeffer. Both have 17 starts while Schaeffer also has three relief appearances including a save. Carlson has a 3.61 ERA with 84 strikeouts over 72.1 innings. Schaeffer has a 3.73 ERA with 67 strikeouts over 91.2 innings.
Carlson started game one in the ACC Tournament as well as the Chapel Hill Regional. He gave up five runs over 10.2 innings and struck out 12. He does not usually go too long into games, only completing six innings twice this season.
Schaeffer was struggling to end the regular season. He gave up 12 runs over 20.2 innings in his last four starts. Then he tossed a complete game shutout of Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament. Over the weekend, he allowed four runs in nine innings over two appearances in the regional.
North Carolina has a couple options out of the pen with a pair of sophomores with sub-three ERAs. Will Sandy is a possible game three starter, but over 12 appearances including six starts, he has a 2.59 ERA in 24.1 innings. Davis Palermo is one of the most trusted arms, appearing 36 times for 55 innings with a 2.62 ERA and 71 strikeouts.
The most often called on arm in the UNC bullpen is sophomore Shawn Rapp who has appeared 42 times and pitched 45 innings with a 3.80 ERA and 59 strikeouts.
Arkansas vs North Carolina Notes
- The Razorbacks are two victories away from punching their ticket to the College World Series for the 11th time in program history.
- Arkansas has advanced to Omaha six times under head coach Dave Van Horn: 2004, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018 & 2019.
- Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn has led the Hogs to 18 NCAA Tournament berths in his 20 seasons at the helm of the program. Under Van Horn, the Razorbacks are 64-42 overall in the NCAA Tournament.
- 9 of the Razorbacks’ 10 Super Regional appearances have occurred under Van Horn’s watch.
- Arkansas is the only team in the country to advance to the Super Regionals in each of the past four postseasons (2018, 2019, 2021 & 2022). (via Razorback Communications)
Evin Demirel contributed to this feature.
More on Arkansas baseball here: