Hogs Handle Central Connecticut In Regional Opener
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The fourth-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks began their NCAA Regional on a high note Friday afternoon inside Baum-Walker Stadium, defeating Central Connecticut State, 11-5, on the backs of four multi-hit performances and a strong pitching performance from freshman Connor Noland.
Noland, who picked up his third win of the year, got the nod to start the regional-opener and didn’t look rattled in his first postseason appearance. He worked 5.1 innings and allowed only two hits with one earned run, while also not walking a batter. It’s the third time this year he hasn’t allowed a walk in five or more innings and second-straight game he’s allowed two or less hits.
With Noland rolling through the Central Connecticut lineup, the Hog offense was able to put 11 runs on 13 hits with Trevor Ezell, Heston Kjerstad, Jack Kenley and Christian Franklin all recording two or more hits. Ezell and Kjerstad both had three-hit games, with Ezell coming away with the best line of 3-for-5 with three RBIs, including a two-run home run in the eighth inning to cap the scoring.
Arkansas (42-17) was able to pick up its fifth-straight regional-opening victory dating back to 2014. The 11 runs scored is also the most scored in a regional game since an 11-10 victory over Missouri State in 2017. The Razorbacks will now wait on the winner of California and TCU and will play its next game at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Offense Busts Out
After notching only 15 hits over three games at the SEC Tournament last week, the Razorback offense knocked around the Central Connecticut pitching staff for 13 hits, it’s most in a single game since having 15 in a series-opening win over LSU (May 9). The 11 runs was also the most since scoring 11 on LSU on May 10. Arkansas has scored 10 or more runs in 20 games this season and is 20-0 in those games.
Ezell and Kjerstad Go Deep
Part of the strong offensive showing came from the bats of Trevor Ezell and Heston Kjerstad during Friday’s game. Leading just 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Kjerstad unloaded his 15th home run of the year just to the right of the batter’s eye in centerfield, making it 3-1 Razorbacks. Kjerstad is now tied with shortstop Casey Martin for the team lead and has one more home run than he did a year ago. Kjerstad finished the game 3-for-4, adding in an RBI double in the bottom of the fifth.
Arkansas started to put the game away in the fifth and sixth innings, scoring three runs in each frame, but Ezell added two more for good measure in the eighth with a two-run home run into the Hog Pen in left field. It was Ezell’s ninth of the year and 25th of his career. The nine home runs is also a personal best for a single season in his career.
Noland Shines While Kopps Stops CCSU Momentum
Making his 17th start of the year, Connor Noland was strong on the mound, going five or more innings for the second-consecutive week. The Greenwood, Arkansas native retired the first nine batters he faced before Central Connecticut registered its first hit. CCSU did get on the board later in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly, but Noland was able to recover and retire the final five batters he faced.
Redshirt junior Kevin Kopps followed Noland out of the bullpen in the middle of the sixth and struck out four over 1.2 hitless innings, needing only 28 pitches. The four strikeouts ties a career high and it’s the sixth time in his last seven appearances that he’s gone an inning or more.
“I thought it started with Connor coming out and just throwing a lot of strikes. He got through the first couple of innings on probably less than 20 pitches. He had a lot of ground balls. When he’s getting ground balls, he’s the got the two-seamer sinking and running. He pitches to contact and that’s what we wanted him to do. Just a good job by our offense, big 2-out hits and just punching in runs here and there. I thought Central Connecticut did a really nice job swinging the bats. They battled us and they hit some balls hard. The game was never really in hand. We felt like we needed to keep scoring and just a good job by the team kind of getting it going better offensively. We only left four runners on base today so we got some big hits and we did a nice job of getting them around and scoring.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on the team’s 11-5 win over Central Connecticut
“I was hoping we’d break out. Sometimes you just have to think back to other seasons this time of the year, and how they finished. If you think about that 2009 season, we couldn’t get out of our own way at the end of the year then finally broke out late at the end of that first game of the regional. Then, we didn’t stop hitting. I was kind of hoping that would happen. We showed signs of breaking out today. We put together some good swings. I was just glad to see us drive in some runs because that had been a bit of an issue.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on the offense breaking out for 11 runs and 15 hits
“I thought he did a really good job of laying off some low pitches early. The at-bat where he singled, that was with two strikes and he laid off a pitch and then he threw him a breaking ball and he hit it through the first baseman and the second baseman and that got it going a little bit. (Kjerstad) was just being a little more selective and not going out of the zone after a lot of pitches when he got behind. That was really good to see.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on Heston Kjerstad
“I was just attacking the zone today. Throwing strikes, filling it up, keeping them off balance with off-speeds. I think that’s just really been the key for me having a successful outing. Just keeping them off balance and keeping them guessing throughout the outing.” – Connor Noland on his outing
“It was really good for our team to come out here. A lot of people had said we had struggled when we went out on the road at A&M and he SEC Tournament but at the end of the day that’s baseball for you. Your offense isn’t going to be hot every game of the year. Every series it’s going to come and go. But I just saw we stuck with it and kept our approaches and today it paid off and we put up runs like we had been most of the season. It was really nice for all of us.” – Heston Kjerstad on the offense breaking out
Arkansas moves on to the winner’s bracket of the Fayetteville Regional and will play the winner of TCU and California on Saturday at 6 p.m. A win on Saturday will put the Hogs into the regional final. All games tomorrow will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks.
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