By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - In typical matter of fact Dave Van Horn style, Arkansas’ baseball coach told his Razorbacks Sunday the pressure besetting them Monday.
There isn’t any, Van Horn said.
No pressure, Van Horn explained, though the Razorbacks fell 8-5 Sunday to South Carolina after Saturday's 9-3 win and faced a winner-take-all Game 3 Monday night with a berth in the College World Series at stake.
It’s just baseball do or die, not real life do or die, Van Horn told his team Sunday that regrouped Monday with a five-run first inning en route to smashing South Carolina 14-4 and advancing among the elite eight playing for the national championship at Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha, beginning with Sunday’s 2 p.m. first-round game against the Texas Longhorns.
“What I said to them last night after the game was, ‘Hey, it’s not life or death,'” Van Horn told media in Monday night’s postgame.
“I gave them a little two-minute speech about pressure and what I feel pressure is and there’s no pressure on them. The gist of it was pressure is when you have two kids, a mortgage, a car payment and you have to go home and tell your wife that you just lost your job. I told them that was pressure. This is nothing. This is fun.”
Van Horn said he sought “just to take the edge off, just so they would relax a little bit.”
They got the message, Van Horn said, and that he and pitching coach Wes Johnson knew it had been received well before leadoff hitter Eric Cole, 3-for-3 with a home run, double, single and two walks and five runs scored, drew the walk starting that five-run first featuring a three-run home run by senior second baseman Carson Shaddy and RBI single by senior designated hitter Luke Bonfield, 3-for-4 with a sacrifice fly and four RBIs.
“We could tell, walking through the locker room, coach Johnson and I,” Van Horn said. “We talked about it before the game, we really like where the guys are at. It was like they were loose, but they were being quiet. It’s hard to explain it. I just felt like, ‘Man, these guys are locked in.' It was just a good feeling when we stepped on the field, just looking down at the bench and seeing where everybody was at. You could just tell these guys were here and they meant business.”
Offensively it started with Cole, on base with a leadoff walk, single and double when Arkansas scored five in the first, two in second and one in the fourth.
He drew a bases-loaded walk in the five-run fifth and hit a one-out solo home run in the seventh as part of an 11-hit attack against seven South Carolina pitchers.
Before all that, though, it started with Isaiah Campbell, Monday’s starting pitcher whose previous start lasted three batters, departing with the bases loaded for reliever Jake Reindl, who eventually won that 4-3 Fayetteville Regional championship game over Dallas Baptist two Sundays ago.
Told by Van Horn and Johnson Monday, to “go out there with a closer’s mentality” and “don’t hold anything back. When it’s time to get you, we’re going to come and get you,” Campbell gave Arkansas four innings, including a scoreless first before Arkansas’ first five game breaker. He bequeathed an 8-2 lead to winning reliever Barrett Loseke after walking the first batter in the fifth.
The runs, though LJ Tolbert’s subsequent double would have scored them anyway, occurred on a fluky two-run wild pitch that Campbell and catcher Grant Koch thought had been fouled off Tolbert’s foot.
Regardless, they and the two solo home runs that South Carolina's Jacob Olson hit in the seventh and eighth off Loseke and Kole Ramage, couldn’t remotely unravel what Campbell started.
“I knew when we walked out the locker room today he (Campbell) was ready to go,” Johnson said postgame. “You take away the little freak play there at the plate and the guy threw five or four scoreless or whatever it was. That’s all we told him to do. I said, ‘Isaiah, I want you to close. I want you to have the mindset to close it from the first pitch on.’ And he did a phenomenal job.”