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Brady Slavens’ moonshot, insurance run, lefties shine, more

OMAHA, Neb. – The hero of the Chapel Hill Super Regional, hitting the walk-off single that punched Arkansas’ ticket to Omaha, Brady Slavens has struggled in the College World Series.

The slugger did notch two hits against Stanford, but went 0 for 4 in the Ole Miss loss and head coach Dave Van Horn said he could feel that he was not the same hitter he’d been the last couple of weeks. That, coupled with Peyton Stovall’s hot bat, prompted the veteran coach to make a rare lineup change.

Although Slavens went 0 for 5 in his first game down in the 8-hole, he broke out with a 2-for-3 performance Wednesday night that included a walk and a monstrous home run.

“Obviously did not have the best day yesterday, but you can not control the past,” Slavens said. “You’ve got to look to the future. Facing elimination, you’ve just got to do whatever you can for the team. ”

The long ball not only broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning, but it was a gargantuan 436-foot blast to dead center, making it the longest recorded home run in the College World Series since it moved into its current venue.

Previously, the longest was 429 feet by Florida’s Pete Alonso in 2015 and Auburn’s Adouard Julien in 2019. It was also just the third home run hit into the gap between the seats in center, joining Alonso and Florida State’s Dylan Busby.

Van Horn said he noticed Slavens had a flatter swing and tried to stay through the middle, which is what he worked on earlier in the day in the batting cages.

“It was 1-0 and I was just looking for a fastball over the plate,” Slavens said. “Luckily I got it. It might be the furthest one I’ve ever hit. ”

As big as the home run was, though, Van Horn pointed to his four-pitch, two-out walk back in the second inning as the moment he knew Slavens was locked in.

“Well, I knew he was going to have a pretty good night when he walked his first at-bat,” Van Horn said. “He took some pitches. He laid off a 2-0 pitch. A lot of times he’ll get a little jumpy at that 2-0 pitch and try to hit it 438 feet… He swings a little bit too hard, but when he laid off that, he ended up drawing a walk and I thought, “Okay, back to the way he was a week ago.”

Huge Insurance Run

It was still a one-run game entering the eighth inning and Arkansas pushed the envelope to scratch across an insurance run.

Cayden Wallace got things started with a low, sharp line drive at the third baseman and it crossed up Garrett Wood, deflecting off his glove. Instead of settling for a single, though, Wallace turned on the jets and stretched it into a double.

He slid in just ahead of Wood’s throw and was ruled safe – a call that stood even after a replay review.

“That’s why they have replay,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “I saw the board. Again, that’s why we challenged it. We thought that Hayden tagged possibly the finger, but again, they got, I think, 22 cameras and they’ve got people, and they see different views than we do on the board. I do not think it’s fair for me to comment on a call. ”

That brought up Michael Turner with a runner in scoring position and he needed just two pitches to drive him in.

He hit an 0-1 pitch by Jack Dougherty through the left side of the infield, but Jacob Gonzalez nearly got to it. It ended up just glancing off his glove, giving Turner his team-leading 16th RBI of the postseason.

“Once we knew they were not going to bunt – which we did not think with Turner with no sacrifices in the 4 hole – we pinched Gonzalez a little bit, one, because we thought, if they are not bunting, obviously they ‘re going to ask him to pull the ball, ”Bianco said. “And two, Dougherty’s times were a little long to the plate, and we were a little scared Wallace would possibly steal a base.

“So we pinched Gonzalez, and obviously that was not a good thing. Turner ends up hitting one to a 6 hole right off Gonzo’s glove. ”

Lefties Shine on the Mound

The first two pitchers Arkansas used Wednesday were a pair of left-handers who held Ole Miss to only one run on three hits through the first eight innings.

After emerging as the Razorbacks’ closer the last couple of weeks, freshman Hagen Smith was back in the rotation and turned in his best start in a couple of months. He gave up one earned run on two hits and four walks while striking out eight in five innings on 90 pitches.

“They fought him pretty well, got his pitch count up a little bit,” Van Horn said. “For the most part, really proud of Hagen. He hadn’t been feeling good, sore throat, tested him for strep throat and a lot of things the last week, but he did not have it. ”

There were a couple of times he nearly unraveled, but quickly zeroed back in following a mound visit.

It was a trip to the mound by pitching coach Matt Hobbs when he fell behind 2-0 following a two-out walk in the second inning that helped him bounce back with three straight strikes to get out of the inning.

Smith also started the third inning with a four-pitch walk and fell behind 2-0, prompting a visit from catcher Michael Turner. Not only did he once again bounce back with three straight strikes, he also struck out the next two batters – Tim Elko and Kevin Graham.

After the game, Smith told reporters that he threw a lot of fastballs and sliders – more than usual – with a few changeups mixed in.

“My mental approach today was just throw the ball over the plate, just throw strikes, because I know I’ve got to throw strikes to give us a chance,” Smith said. “If I walk people… I want to go long, deep in the game and help our team.”

The first guy Van Horn called upon out of the bullpen was senior Evan Taylor and he was even better.

In the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, he retired nine of 10 batters he faced on an incredibly efficient 30 pitches. That matched the longest outing of his career, but he had thrown so few pitches that he went back out in the ninth.

Unfortunately, he threw a fastball away and Alderman slapped it to the right for his third hit of the game, leading to a pitching change.

“Obviously hindsight is 20/20,” Van Horn said. “He was throwing strikes and feeling strong and he wanted to go back out. We obviously discussed it a little bit, but he’s older. So we sent him out. Got to give Alderman credit, he did a great job tonight. ”

Other Tidbits

~ The announced attendance for Wednesday’s game was 25,401. It was the largest attendance for a College World Series game since the Arkansas-Florida State game in 2019, which drew 26,155 fans.

~ Chris Lanzilli opened up the scoring with a leadoff home run in the second inning. The 382-foot blast barely cleared the wall in left and was confirmed via replay, giving him three long balls in the College World Series. “He’s gotten behind in counting a bit and gone the other way,” Van Horn said. “The ball he hit out of the park today, that was on a change-up, but he really barreled it up. He’s strong. I think he kept it below the wind a little bit, and it just got out of the park. ”

~ Braydon Webb led off the game with a double over the left fielder’s head, making him 4 for 4 in his first at bat as Arkansas’ leadoff man at the College World Series. Three of the hits went for extra bases, with two doubles and one triple.

Up Next

With the win, Arkansas has forced the if necessary game against Ole Miss. The two teams will play at 3 pm CT Thursday on ESPN2 with a spot in the College World Series finals on the line. Oklahoma – which advanced with a 5-1 win over Texas A&M on Wednesday – awaits the winner.

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