Dave Van Horn has always presided over the Arkansas baseball program with such a steely confidence that it was not at all surprising to see his facial expression barely change in the Razorback dugout on Tuesday night as Oregon State looked to build an early lead against his Hogs.

Blaine Knight was looking reasonably sharp, but in the second inning, he surrendered a stinging double to Beavers slugger Trevor Larnach, then an infield hit and a soft single to center made it 1-0 for the alleged betting-line favorites. Arkansas couldn’t do much offensively against the Beavers’ embattled southpaw ace, Luke Heimlich, for the first four innings.


Historians will later debate the significance of what transpired in the bottom half of the fourth and the ensuing top half of the fifth, but here’s the rub: thanks to another Larnach double, which was really a lazy flyball to left that Heston Kjerstad simply couldn’t locate in the sun, and a well-struck single by catcher Adley Rutschman, OSU was in serious business with none out. The normally unflappable Knight did what he customarily does, and coaxed a potential double-play groundout that would have ostensibly put the Beavers ahead 2-0 at the expense of two quick outs. But the Hogs weren’t able to crisply make the play and it all appeared to be a function of Rutschman breaking up the double play.

Trouble is, he did so illegally. Rutschman never slid, and instead, he opted to essentially cruise inside the baseline in a half-crouch jog, which was indisputably a breach of the rules. Jax Biggers couldn’t get a clean throw back to first for the second out, and the umpires were rather conclusive in the determination that Rutschman interfered. That sent Larnach back to third, taking the Oregon State run off the board, and Knight capped off the inning by fanning Michael Gretler on a full count.


It was the last real threat for Oregon State’s vaunted offense, and it buoyed the Hog lineup in the fifth, though mostly it was an unraveling by the Beavers that triggered the decisive rally. Heimlich lost command of his usually precise fastball almost immediately, and Grant Koch made him pay for a one-out walk by driving home Carson Shaddy with the tying run. Two hit batsmen and an error by the dependable Nick Madrigal made it evident that the Beavers were totally taken off track by Rutschman’s running gaffe, and Heimlich was gone after throwing 86 pitches over only 4.1 innings. Kjerstad drew a bases-loaded walk to cap off the inning and, oddly enough, the entire scoring for the night.

Knight was bolstered enough by his team’s rally that he fired a salty fifth and sixth without allowing additional damage, then he turned it over to his trusted bullpen mates. Barrett Loseke threw two shutout innings and Matt Cronin locked up his 14th save by putting away three batters in an economic 15 pitches. The Beavers, having crushed the ball to the tune of 48 runs over five prior games in Omaha, were muted over the final seven innings. Despite ultimately outhitting the Hogs, 9-5, the Beavers were incapable of stringing together any hits after the first few innings, and Arkansas once again did all the little things well: save for Kjerstad’s sun-affected misplay, the Hogs were clean in the field, and despite striking out 16 times, they also drew seven walks and the upperclassmen in particular worked deep counts. In a worst-case scenario for Arkansas, if the Hogs lose tonight with trusted lefty Kacey Murphy on the mount, they still have a fresher pen generally as Heimlich’s relief, Christian Chamberlain, was terrific (11 Ks of the 14 outs he recorded) but also completely used up for the duration of the finals.


The Hogs sit on the precipice of greatness heretofore unseen in decades of competitive varsity baseball. The opportunity to reach that ultimate apex is tonight and Omaha will again be overtaken by a sea of cardinal, which is precisely the sort of atmosphere that the Razorbacks have parlayed to excellence in 2018.