The Razorbacks have been tested — both in the SEC and NCAA tournament — but have emerged as the kind of deep and relentless team worthy of contending for a national title.
Their 98 home runs rank tied for third nationally and their slugging percentage (.487) is eighth. Beating top pitchers is more realistic when a rally can consist of one or two big hits opposed to three or four smaller ones. Casey Martin, Heston Kjerstad, Carson Shaddy, Eric Cole and Dominic Fletcher all have double-digit home runs this year.
You want pitching? Arkansas has that, too, led by unbeaten Blaine Knight (2.88 ERA), regular Saturday hurler Kacey Murphy (3.15) and three relievers with an ERA of 3.15 or lower. Its team ERA (3.55) is 29th in the country, despite facing the gauntlet of SEC lineups.
Glove work has been above average for the Hogs, who have the ability to make outstanding plays. Outfielder Fletcher and catcher Grant Koch were SEC all-defense. A season’s worth of facing top opposition also has Arkansas steeled for the finals. It went 3-2 against defending national champion Florida this year, including eliminating the Gators on Friday.
Key number: 6
Arkansas is 33-3 when scoring six runs or more this season compared to 14-16 when scoring fewer. That number might be unrealistic to consistently reach for most teams, but the Razorbacks rank 15th nationally in scoring (7.2 runs per game) and have hit that threshold in six of nine NCAA tournament games.
Hitter to watch: Dominic Fletcher
The sophomore center fielder has been on fire in Omaha, going 8 for 14 with two home runs and eight RBIs in three games. The only Californian on the team has steadily improved as the season progressed and is an invaluable hitting in the fifth or sixth spot during the postseason.
Pitcher to watch: Blaine Knight
Unlike Oregon State, Arkansas is able to reset its pitching rotation for the championship series because of its 3-0 showing in Omaha. That puts the Monday spotlight on ace Blaine Knight, who is 13-0 with a 2.88 ERA in 18 starts. Teammates talk about how the junior has bulked up under new strength coach Blaine Kinsley, and he will have a heavy load to carry against a loaded OSU lineup.
Arkansas will win if ...
Like an open-ended poker hand, there are many paths to victory for the Razorbacks. The most likely is continuing an offensive onslaught that has seen them outscore CWS competition 23-11. But if the starting pitching can continue to stymie foes and limit the stress on the bullpen, the hitters won’t have to perform like world-beaters.