OMAHA, Neb. — On college baseball’s biggest stage, Arkansas senior right-handed pitcher Connor Noland put on one of his strongest performances of 2022. He mowed through the Stanford batting order three times over Saturday afternoon, holding the No. 2 Cardinal to two runs as the Razorbacks slugged their way to a 17-2 victory to begin the Men’s College World Series.
In 7 ⅔ innings, the Razorback ace surrendered just two runs — a solo homer to begin the bottom of the first, and a runner he left for senior right-hander Kole Ramage after he exited in the eighth. Three of the six hits he allowed came in the first inning, and he kept his pitch count low with quick at-bats which resulted in soft-contact outs.
“Just filling up the strike zone, that's the biggest thing,” Noland said of his recent success in the postgame press conference. “Getting ahead in counts, getting them to take uncomfortable swings, that's really been the big thing the past three weeks. Just get ahead and let my defense work, and it worked today.”
After surrendering the leadoff home run, Noland gave up singles to two of the next three hitters. He induced a ground ball to senior shortstop Jalen Battles, who initiated a 6-4-3 double play to keep the score level at 1-1 and get his hurler back to the dugout after 12 pitches.
Noland retired the next nine Cardinal hitters in order, using just 31 pitches to do so.
In the top of the fifth, the Razorback offense finally turned the momentum from Noland’s effectiveness into runs. Senior designated hitter Brady Slavens and sophomore third baseman Cayden Wallace both hit singles to right field to get the line moving. Following a strikeout, graduate senior Chris Lanzilli belted a 1-1 changeup deep to left field for a three-run bomb, which put the Hogs ahead 4-1.
“To play on this stage is really why I came here (to Arkansas),” Lanzilli said. “And to do something like that is awesome, and to win the game is even better. I just want to keep it rolling.”
Junior second baseman Robert Moore followed the longball with a single, prompting a Stanford pitching change. After a walk and a fielder’s choice, he extended the lead to four runs when he came home on a wild pitch. Junior left fielder Zack Gregory upped the run total in the inning to five with an RBI single, his second hit of the day out of the nine hole.
The Hogs failed to score in the sixth, but they jumped right back on the Cardinal pitching in the seventh. Moore led off with a double to right field, and Battles drove him in with a single to center. Slavens collected his second RBI of the day — his first was a sacrifice fly to open the scoring in the first — with an infield single, making it 8-1.
Sophomore third baseman Cayden Wallace tacked on one more in the seventh with an RBI double.
With Moore and Battles in scoring position in the eighth, freshman first baseman Peyton Stovall drove them both in with a single to stretch the lead to 10 runs. In doing so, Stovall became the ninth Arkansas batter to appear in the hit column, marking the third time in seven NCAA Tournament games the Razorbacks have accomplished that feat.
“Offensively, I've seen us hit the ball in the middle of the ball a lot more, advance runners, move runners around, use the whole field,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We had a bunch of backside hits today, sac fly. I mean, we're running a pretty good offense right now.”
After three lengthy scoring innings for the Hogs, Noland finally began to lose some efficiency. With one out in the eighth, he issued a four-pitch walk, immediately followed by a single. Stanford center fielder Brock Jones, who hit the leadoff homer in the first, nearly took him deep again, but it died in right field for Lanzilli to make the play.
Although he sat at just 78 pitches, Van Horn elected to turn to the bullpen with the game well in hand. Ramage allowed one of the runners he inherited to score, but he quickly recorded the third out to keep the Cardinal from rallying.
Arkansas poured the offense on in the ninth, racking up three different two-run hits for a 17-2 lead. Wallace initiated the six-run frame with a home run — his fifth of the tournament. Stovall collected his third and fourth RBIs with another single, and graduate senior center fielder Braydon Webb laced another extra base hit to the fence for a double, going along with his leadoff triple in the first.
Webb’s second knock was the Hogs’ 21st of the game, a season-high, and it made him the ninth starting Razorback to collect at least two hits on the afternoon.
Senior righty Zebulon Vermillion got the call to finish things off in the ninth, which he did without any trouble.
“What I've seen…is a team that was disappointed (with) how the regular season ended,” Van Horn said. “And once we got into postseason play, I just felt like the team, they didn't want to fail. And they took a step forward, got over all the negativity and just said, we're going to fight you to the end, and hopefully it will go our way.”
The Razorbacks are scheduled to take the field once again at 6 p.m. Monday. Their opponent will be the winner of the Mississippi-Auburn game, both of whom Arkansas won two of three games against during the regular season. The contest will be broadcast on ESPN.