Razorbacks play beyond all expectations
FAYETTEVILLE -- "Diplomatic Dave" has never described Dave Van Horn.
But the Arkansas Razorbacks' mince no words head baseball coach did his best restraining himself to navigate the diplomatic tightrope forbidding him to criticize the balls and strikes umpiring of Arkansas' 3-2 Bracket 2 Finals loss to South Carolina Friday night eliminating the Razorbacks from the College World Series at Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Arkansas finishes third nationally at the CWS while South Carolina's Gamecocks, the 2010 and 2011 national champions, advance to play Bracket 1 winner Arizona in a best 2 of 3 of series for the national championship that started Sunday.
Van Horn's Hogs, contested home plate umpire Perry Costello's strike zone as too tight throughout Friday night. Arkansas starter DJ Baxendale was charged with five walks through 4 1-3 innings after yielding only 24 walks his entire previous 102 1-3 innings, lost, 3-2 after Adam Matthews' bases-loaded walk from reliever Barrett Astin broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh on a pitch Matthews and South Carolina Coach Ray Tanner acknowledged as a close call.
"Hats off to my pitchers, I thought they did a great job," Van Horn said. "I thought they filled up the zone all night long."
Would he amplify on the strike zone?
"I would love to but I can't," Van Horn said. "I'm sorry."
Did frustration with the umpiring contribute to Arkansas' defeat?
"No," Van Horn said. "Not one bit. I thought they did a great job. We had one hitter upset when he struck out but it was a strike in my opinion. I thought they did a great job trying to battle through it to be honest with you."
Tanner said the game's outcome hung in the balance start to finish.
All six Arkansas vs. South Carolina games, the Gamecocks won 2 of 3 in a SEC series at Fayetteville and 2 of 3 in Omaha edging Arkansas, 2-0 and 3-2 on Thursday and Friday after Arkansas won Monday's winner's bracket game, 2-1, went down to the last out with the outcome in doubt.
"The game could have gone either way, Tanner said. "We were fortunate that we kept grinding it out and we caught a break there with the walk and were able to hang on and win."
Matthews, the No. 5 hole hitter slumping before the walk, said, "Honestly I thought I had better do something or I never could live in Columbia (S.C.) again. I told Coach Tanner I left a village of guys on base since being here in Omaha but that's baseball. He threw me some good pitches that I watched. He threw me a good slider there at the end I held off of and fortunately I walked."
How fortunate was he?
"Certainly it was pretty close," Matthews said. "When you have two strikes on you like that, you want to put your foot down so you can see it a little better. I saw it away and I about swung at it but luckily I held off."
South Carolina got superb shutout relief from Tyler Webb and winner Matt Price after Arkansas took a 2-0 lead off starter Colby Holmes and the Razorbacks countered with outstanding pitching from Baxendale, Bryant's Trent Daniel, the left-hander retiring the lefty he was brought in to face, Colby Suggs, the hard-luck loser, and Forrest City's Astin inheriting two Suggs runners with the score tied 2-2 in the seventh.
"If you like outstanding pitching and outstanding defense, I thought it was very well played," Van Horn said. "South Carolina did a great job of manufacturing a run there to win the game or get the lead to end up being with the winning run. I felt bad for our players. They fought hard. Just one of those games that could have gone either way."