Arkansas Razorback fans, frankly, have earned a right to unlimited psychotherapy. What happened in America’s heartland Wednesday night was heartbreaking, and it cannot be reduced to a popup in foul ground.

The Hogs were clinging to a 3-2 lead and Oregon State had a season-saving run 90 feet away when Cadyn Grenier lofted what appeared to be a reasonably routine fly into TD Ameritrade Park’s spacious foul territory. It was almost perfectly placed for a game-, series- and title-winning third out, as first baseman Jared Gates, second baseman Carson Shaddy and right fielder Eric Cole all darted alertly toward the opportunity to secure a baseball that, once caught, would be a historical memento for a program that has won a lot of games but fallen achingly shy of establishing a championship pedigree.


The ball landed with a crowd-deflating thud right behind Shaddy, who overran it, and a little bit short of Cole, who seemed to pull up in recognition that his infielders were closing in on it. Closer Matt Cronin winced, but quickly took the ball and seemed determined to still end it with his own arm. He fired one ball that Grenier wouldn’t chase and a strike that the Beavers’ accomplished shortstop would foul off, then tried to push a fastball that was visibly losing velocity past him.

Grenier grounded a clean RBI single to left to tie it, and it was evident that the psychological toll of the preceding minutes was heavy on Cronin. Facing the Beavers’ best slugger, Trevor Larnach, Cronin tossed a lifeless 91 mph fastball into the outfielder’s hot zone and he crushed it into the right field bullpen for a 5-3 lead that became the final margin minutes later when the Hogs’ Casey Martin grounded into a routine double play to snuff out a possible Razorback response in the bottom of the ninth.


The popout that wasn’t will assuredly be the play that haunts fans, coaches and players for some time if Arkansas cannot speedily recover tonight for Game 3. But in full disclosure, Arkansas was one strike away from winning two games in which its offense was thoroughly inept, and that’s why getting off the mat quickly in the rubber match is going to be so vital. The Hogs, flush with power, have not homered off Oregon State pitchers and have struck out an almost unfathomable 28 times over two nine-inning games. They have registered two extra-base hits, a double in each game that didn’t even account for a run, and Oregon State’s own failings in the field and on the basepaths have had a lot to do with the Razorbacks still being in a position to dispense with these ill memories and claim the crown.

If Isaiah Campbell thought he faced pressure trying to take down defending champion Florida in a semifinal last Friday, he’s about to step into a completely different pressure cooker for the last game of 2018. Oregon State hasn’t set the world afire but the PAC-12 champions were prohibitive favorites to win this matchup for a reason. The Beavers can now play loose and confident even though they’ve really depleted their bullpen, which wasn’t as strong as Arkansas’s to begin with.


And therein lies the Hogs’ hope: Beavers coach Pat Casey leaned so heavily on three relievers the past two nights — Christian Chamberlain, Brandon Eisert and Kevin Abel were all individually and collectively effective, but also pushed to the brink on pitch counts — so tonight will be the very definition of a war of attrition. That favors a Hog team that, while not as battle-tested in elimination games as their foes, did take one back-against-the-wall moment in the Super Regional and explode all over South Carolina. Campbell posted four worthy innings in that one before being even better against the Gators, and the bullpen helped the Hogs cruise from Baum to Baum North on the strength of a well-rounded game.

And to be honest, they’ve just not been quite as sharp in Omaha, even in amassing four wins and being agonizingly close to a fifth. The power bats have disappeared as Shaddy, Cole, Martin and Heston Kjerstad have yet to flex their home run muscles in Nebraska after popping a combined 55 long ones through the regular season and regional and Super Regional play. If Arkansas has a chance to turn back an incompressible and sickening twist of fate tonight, it likely rests on the hitters’ abilities to have short memories and reborn swagger, and assuredly on Campbell’s big right arm.

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