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Arkansas slugs its way past NJIT in regional opener

by Matt Jones, Seth Campbell | June 4, 2021 at 1:06 p.m.
Arkansas third baseman Cayden Wallace (7) is congratulated at the plate Friday, June 4, 2021, after hitting a three-run home run by left fielder Braydon Webb (left) and shortstop Jalen Battles (4) during the fourth inning of the Razorbacks' 13-8 win over NJIT in the first game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Top-ranked Arkansas scored seven runs in the fourth inning to make up for a slow start, and the Razorbacks rallied to beat NJIT 13-8 on Friday in the opening game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Arkansas (47-10) advanced to the winner’s bracket in the regional and will play a non-elimination game Saturday at 8 p.m. against the winner of Friday night’s game between Nebraska and Northeastern.

NJIT (26-23) will play the Nebraska-Northeastern loser in an elimination game Saturday at 2 p.m.

Arkansas extended its win streak to nine games by taking the 3-hour, 42-minute game. NJIT had a nine-game win streak snapped and lost for the first time since May 15.

"It was a good win," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "Bottom line, this time of year, find a way to win and hopefully we’ll do a little better tomorrow."

Christian Franklin, Cayden Wallace and Cullen Smith hit three of the Razorbacks’ five home runs in the fourth inning. Franklin led off the fourth with a home run into the left-field bullpen to tie the game 3-3.

Franklin’s big swing came moments after he made a full-sprint diving catch to end the top of the fourth inning that likely saved two runs. NJIT had runners at first and second base at the time.

"As soon as it happened, sometimes as a coach you're like, 'Dang,'" NJIT coach Robbie McClellan said. "It was just such a huge momentum play. If we get two runs there and keep the momentum, who knows what happens in the game. But they make a great catch and save two runs, they get the momentum and then we don't have a very good inning after that. So, I think that play was the defining play of the game and kind of switched the momentum in their favor, and we weren't really able to get the momentum back even though we fought very hard."

The run-saving catch came on the third pitch from ace Arkansas reliever Kevin Kopps, who was named national player of the year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper one day before. Kopps recorded seven outs on 24 pitches to earn his 11th win.

"He's just really nasty," McClellan said. "The other guys have really good stuff, but I feel like every time — and I don't want to speak for him — but he's got a really good idea of what he's doing. He commands the baseball so well, and that cutter-slider thing that he throws is pretty un-hittable."

Arkansas went through three pitchers before Kopps entered the game with two outs in the fourth inning. Starter Caleb Bolden recorded only four outs before he was replaced by Connor Noland in the second inning.

NJIT scored twice against Bolden. Albert Choi led off the game with a home run to left field to put the Highlanders up 1-0, and NJIT added a second run on a two-out error by Arkansas shortstop Jalen Battles in the second.

The Highlanders loaded the bases against Noland with no outs in the third. Ryan Costeiu worked well to get out of the jam, but NJIT added a run to go ahead 3-0 when Costeiu walked Kevin Blum with the bases loaded.

Arkansas left fielder Braydon Webb energized the announced crowd of 11,084 with a two-run home run in the bottom of the third to pull the Razorbacks within 3-2. Webb’s homer followed Battles being hit by a pitch to lead off the half inning.

NJIT starter Tyler Stafflinger retired Arkansas’ next three hitters to take a one-run lead to the fourth inning. It looked like the Highlanders might add to their lead when Costeiu gave up a one-out single to David Marcano and hit Daniel Helfgott with a two-out pitch.

That triggered the pitching change to Kopps. NJIT catcher Paul Franzoni put a charge into a 0-2 pitch from Kopps, but the center fielder Franklin covered close to 100 feet to make the catch falling down.

After Franklin tied the game on the leadoff home run in the bottom of the fourth, Arkansas loaded the bases with one out on a Charlie Welch single, a Casey Opitz walk and Battles’ second hit by pitch.

Webb walked in four pitches against NJIT reliever Jake Rappaport to give the Razorbacks a 4-3 lead. Matt Goodheart added a sacrifice fly before Wallace’s three-run homer and Smith’s solo homer in consecutive at bats blew the game open with Arkansas ahead 9-3.

Stafflinger allowed 6 runs and 4 hits, walked 1, hit 2 and struck out 3 in 3 1/3 innings. Rappaport, who entered with one of the nation’s best ERAs (2.23), allowed 3 runs on 3 hits and 1 walk in 2/3 of an inning.

The Razorbacks rallied from a deficit of at least three runs for the 13th time this season, including for the eighth time at home. Arkansas improved to 27-5 at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Battles homered in the fifth to extend the Razorbacks’ lead to 10-3. It was Arkansas’ 98th home run, which tied the 2018 team for the most in program history.

The Razorbacks had trouble putting the Highlanders away. NJIT scored twice in the seventh and three times in the eighth to pull within 12-8.

Arkansas threw seven pitchers — Bolden, Noland, Costeiu, Kopps, Heston Tole, Caden Monke and Kole Ramage. Costeiu and Kopps were the only pitchers who did not allow a run.

"We knew it was probably going to get a little bit crazy the way we were going to work the game," Van Horn said. "We just needed to make sure we scored at least one more run than they did."

NJIT pulled within 10-5 with a pair of runs against Tole in the seventh inning. Wallace, who moved from third base to right field prior to the seventh, threw out Franzoni at home plate to deny the Highlanders a third run in the inning.

Jacob Nesbit singled with the bases loaded to score two runs and extend Arkansas’ lead to 12-5 in bottom of the seventh, but NJIT scored three more in the eighth when its first four hitters reached base.

One week after pitching powered the Razorbacks to a championship at the SEC Tournament, Arkansas pitching allowed 11 hits, walked 7 and hit 3 batters. The Highlanders stranded 14 base runners.

"They just kept slapping two-strike base hits the other way and laying off borderline pitches," Van Horn said. "I mean, you've got to give them credit. We struck then out nine times and they don't strike out much. We knew that coming into the game, and they proved it. They've got a good approach."

Franklin singled and scored on a wild pitch in the eighth inning to cap the scoring. The Razorbacks recorded 13 hits, led by Franklin’s 3-for-5 day. Webb and Wallace drove in three runs apiece, and Battles scored four times.

EARLIER

Arkansas 13 NJIT 8 - FINAL

Ramage strikes out the first batter for the first out.

Choi popped up to first for the second out.

Maracano singles through the right side to keep the game alive. Marcano takes second due to cather's indifference.

Ramage walks the next batter on four pitches.

Ramage bounces back with a strikeout to end the game.

Full recap to come shortly on wholehogsports.com

Arkansas 13 NJIT 8 - End 8th

Smith flies out to left for the first out.

Franklin beats out an infield single to give the Hogs a runner. The shortstop dove and stopped the ball, but his throw from his knees was very late.

Moore singles to right. Franklin goes from first to third to bring up Charlie Welch with runners on the corners.

A ball in the dirt gets by the catcher and Franklin jogs home. Hogs lead 13-8.

Welch pops up on the infield to the second baseman for the second out.

A wild pitch moves Moore to third. Opitz walks and the Hogs have runners on the corners with two outs.

Kacso's day is done. In to pitch for the Highlanders is Aidan Kidd.

Kacso - 3.2IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 3BB, 3K, 87 pitches.

Opitz steals second. Battles hits a flare into right field, but it's tracked down by the right fielder for the last out of the inning.

Arkansas 12 NJIT 8 - Middle 8th

Monke walks the first two batters of the eighth inning and that will be it for him.

Kole Ramage in to pitch now for Arkansas.

Monke - 0.1IP, 0H, 0R, 2BB, 0K, 15 pitches.

A looping single drops in front of a diving Webb. One run scores and the Highlanders have runners on second and third with nobody out.

A single through the right side scores another run. Runners on the corners for NJIT.

Ramage gets a strikeout looking on a full count for the first out of the inning.

Hussey hits a high fly to right-center field. Franklin catches it, but Cocciadiferr scores to bring the score to 12-8.

A ground ball to Moore ends the inning.

Arkansas 12 NJIT 5 - End 7th

Moore popped up and Welch struck out looking to start the seventh.

Opitz follows with a single to right field to give the Hogs a baserunner.

Battles works a walk and that will bring up Braydon Webb.

Webb walks on a full count and that will load the bases for Nesbit.

Nesbit with his 13th and 14th RBI of the year as he singles home Opitz and Battles.

Wallace pops up to first in foul territory to end the inning.

Arkansas 10 NJIT 5 - Middle 7th

Heston Tole in now to pitch for Arkansas.

Kopps - 2.1IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 1K, 24 pitches

Tole allows back-to-back singles to start the 7th.

Tole loses control of a breaking ball and hits Franzoni. Bases loaded with nobody out for NJIT.

A single just beyond the reach of Moore at second scores a run for the Highlanders.

Tole bounces back and strikes out pinch hitter Luke Longo looking on three pitches for out number one.

Donnelly singles through the right side, another run scores, but Wallace throws out Franzoni at home by a step for the second out.

Caden Monke comes in to pitch for Arkansas now.

Tole - 0.2IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 1K, 19 pitches.

Monke comes on and gets a groundout to Battles who flips to Nesbit at third for the last out of the inning.

Arkansas 10 NJIT 3 - End 6th

Goodheart singles through the right side of the infield. Nesbit comes in for him. So expect Nesbit to go to third and Wallace to go to right next half inning.

Wallace pops up high into the air down the right field line. The second baseman calls everybody off and hauls it in for the first out.

Smith pops up to right and Franklin strikes out on a full count to end the inning.

Arkansas 10 NJIT 3 - Middle 6th

Another 1-2-3 inning for Kopps.

A flyout and two groundouts put the Hogs back in the dugout.

Nobody warming up yet, so we'll see if Kopps stays in the game.

Arkansas 10 NJIT 3 - End 5th

Jared Kacso in to pitch now for the Highlanders.

Rappaport - 0.2IP, 3H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 0K, 19 pitches.

Welch strikes out swinging and Opitz flies out to center for the first two outs.

Battles gets all of one and blasts it just to the right and well beyond the hog pen in left field. That's the fifth home run of the game for Arkansas.

Webb hits a slicing fly ball to right, but it's tracked down by the right fielder to end the inning.

Arkansas 9 NJIT 3 - Middle 5th

Kopss sets NJIT down in order for the first time this game.

He got two groundouts and a strikeout.

Arkansas 9 NJIT 3 - End 4th

After making the great diving catch to end the inning, Franklin homers to left field to tie this game up. That ball just snuck inside the left field foul pole.

Moore strikes out swinging, but Welch singles through the left side.

Opitz falls behind in the count, but he works a walk.

Battles is hit by a pitch and the bases are loaded for Webb.

Stafflinger's day is done. Jake Rappaport is in to pitch now for NJIT.

Stafflinger - 3.1IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 3K, 67 pitches. All three runners are his responsibility.

Webb walks on four pitches and the Hogs lead 4-3.

Goodheart with a sac fly to deep left-center and the Hogs are now ahead 5-3.

Cayden Wallace with a homerun and now the Hogs are rolling. That got over the left-center field fence in a hurry. 8-3 Hogs on top.

Back-to-back go the Hogs. Smith hits one that just gets over the left field fence and it's 9-3.

The Hogs have batted around as Franklin comes up and singles through the left side.

Moore grounds out to third to end the inning.

NJIT 3 Arkansas 2 - Middle 4th

Costeiu retires the first batter on a pop fly to center.

The next batter singles, but then Costeiu strikes out the next batter.

Costeiu hits the next batter and his day is done.

Kevin Kopps is now in to pitch for Arkansas.

Costeiu - 1.2IP, 1H, 0R, 1BB, 3K, 38 pitches

Franzoni hits what should have been a double to deep center field, but Franklin has a great diving catch running toward the wall to end the inning.

NJIT 3 Arkansas 2 - End 3rd

Battles leads off the inning by getting hit by a pitch.

Webb hits a line drive home run that stays fair down the left field line to bring the Hogs within one.

Goodheart grounds out to first for the first out.

Wallace puts a charge into the first pitch he sees, but it's caught at the wall in left field.

Smith struck out swinging to end the inning.

NJIT 3 Arkansas 0 - Middle 3rd

Noland walks the first batter of the inning.

Helfgott singles through the right side and the Highlanders have two on with nobody out.

NJIT bunts, Noland fields, but his throw pulls Smith off the bag and the Highlanders have bases loaded with no outs.

Noland is done and Costeiu is coming in.

Noland - 0.2IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 0K, 23 pitches

Kopps is in the bullpen warming up.

Costeiu gets Hussey to strikeout looking on three pitches for the first out.

After a nine pitch at bat Costeiu walks Blum to score another NJIT run.

Costeiu blows a 1-2 fastball by Donnelly for the second out.

Battles makes a great catch right up against the fence down the left field line to end the inning, but the Highlanders have scored a run in every inning this game.

NJIT 2 Arkansas 0 - End 2nd

Franklin leads off with a pop up foul behind home. It's caught by Franzoni for the first out.

Moore singles through the right side for the Hogs first hit.

Welch flies out to deep left for the second out.

Opitz strikes out swinging on a full count to strand Moore.

NJIT 2 Arkansas 0 - Middle 2nd

Bolen gets the first batter of the inning to pop up to short, but the Bolden walks the next two and that will be it for him.

Connor Noland coming in.

Bolden - 1.1IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 2BB, 1K, 34 pitches. Both runners are his responsibility.

A hot shot to Battles is fielded, but he has problems with the transfer. He gets the runner at second for two outs.

Runners on the corners now for Marcano. Noland induces a ground ball to Battles who just misses it. It goes right underneath is glove. The runner from third scores and NJIT has runners on the corners again.

The other Marcano lines to Moore to end the inning.

]NJIT 1 Arkansas 0 - End 1st

Arkansas goes three up three down in the first. Two long fly balls and a short pop up to right ends the inning.

NJIT 1 Arkansas 0 - Middle 1st

NJIT leads off the game with a solo home run to left field to take the lead.

Bolden struggles after that, giving up a hit and hitting a batter, but he strands the runners on first and second to get the Razorbacks in the dugout.

Lineups

New Jersey Institute of Technology

CF Albert Choi

LF Julio Marcano

SS David Marcano

DH Matt Cocciadiferr

2B Daniel Helfgott

C Paul Franzoni

1B Nick Hussey

RF Kevin Blum

3B Jared Donnelly

P Tyler Stafflinger

Arkansas

RF Matt Goodheart

3B Cayden Wallace

1B Cullen Smith

CF Christian Franklin

2B Robert Moore

DH Charlie Welch

C Casey Opitz

SS Jalen Battles

LF Braydon Webb

P Caleb Bolden

Pregame

Neither team will be eliminated with a loss Friday. The winner will advance to play the winner of Friday’s game between Nebraska and Northeastern on Saturday at 8 p.m. The loser of Friday’s games will play Saturday at 2 p.m. in an elimination game.

NJIT was named the champion of the America East Tournament when the league’s championship game between NJIT and Stony Brook was rained out last week. NJIT won the automatic bid because it was the only undefeated team remaining in the tournament.

Arkansas was the regular-season and tournament champion of the SEC.

NJIT, which reached Division I status in 2007, is playing in its first NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas will be without first baseman Brady Slavens (ankle) on Friday. Slavens’ availability for the other regional games is not known….Arkansas infielder Cullen Smith homered against NJIT starter Tyler Stafflinger two years ago when Smith was playing for East Tennessee State. Smith enters the regional with three home runs in his past four games.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn recruited NJIT coach Robbie McClellan out of Seward (Kan.) Community College while Van Horn was coaching at Nebraska in the early 2000s. McClellan transferred from Seward to Arizona State.

Arkansas is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks are attempting to become the first top seed to win the national championship since Miami in 1999.

Top overall seeds have advanced to the College World Series 14 times since 1999 and only three have failed to advance past their home regional.

Arkansas has a 2.38 ERA and has not allowed more than four runs during its eight-game win streak.

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