WACO, Texas — It took just two batters Saturday to realize Arkansas was dealing with a different offense than the ones it faced during last week’s Houston Regional.
Baylor’s pesky designated hitter, Nathan Orf, was hit by a pitch for the 35th time this season to lead off the Waco Super Regional.
Then, center fielder Logan Vick deposited a pitch over the wall in left centerfield.
The Bears beat up Arkansas ace D.J. Baxendale in the early innings and cruised to an 8-1 win during the first game of the Waco Super Regional in Baylor Ballpark on Saturday. Baylor, the NCAA Tournament’s No. 4 national seed, clubbed three home runs and four doubles, shelling a staff which allowed one earned run in three games last week.
It moves the Bears (49-15) one win away from reaching the College World Series for the first time since 2005. Arkansas (42-20), meanwhile, faces a do-or-die game when the teams meet at 3 p.m. today.
“Baylor just kind of took it to us (Saturday),” said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said, summing up his team’s disappointment.
Arkansas knew it was facing a talented offense before the super regional began. Baylor entered the game hitting .312 as a team and .327 during home games this season.
The Bears lived up to those expectations, doing most of its damage against Baxendale.
“I made a lot of mistakes that Baylor took big-time advantage of,” Baxendale said. “But they’re also a great hitting team. They hit a lot of good, solid pitches. They’re tough.”
It left the right-hander — who was a 10th-round pick in the Major League Baseball Draft earlier last week — suffering through his worst outing since early in the season.
The trouble began with the 2-0 hole thanks to Vick’s first-inning home run. But catcher Josh Lundy added a solo shot - his 16th home run - in the third inning to add to the lead. Vick hit his second home run of the game in the fourth to help the Bears build a 5-0 lead.
“Everyone was hitting good during the week,” said first baseman Max Muncy, who went 3-for-4 Saturday. “We came into this game and prepared for this guy and he was throwing it right where we thought he was going to and we put some good swings on the ball.”
It was unusual for Baxendale, who had allowed just one earned run in his previous 20 1/3 innings pitched in NCAA Tournament play.
The three home runs hit off Baxendale (7-5) were the most he had allowed during one outing in career. Baylor also tied the season high for home runs allowed by Arkansas, equaling LSU’s output in a win on March 30.
“I thought from top to bottom offensively we were hooked up pretty good,” Baylor coach Steve Smith said. “Which, coming into a game like this, is what you’d expect.
“If you can’t be hooked up for this, when are you ever going to be hooked up?”
Van Horn said part of the problem was the fact Baxendale didn’t have the usual command of his fastball Saturday. But whatever the issue, Baxendale’s struggles were problematic for an Arkansas offense not known for its ability to put together big innings.
Baylor pitcher Trent Blank (11-1) made sure it remained true Saturday, limiting the Razorbacks to one run on seven hits in eight innings. He got some great defense from shortstop Jake Miller and was aided by a base-running error by Arkansas first baseman Dominic Ficociello, who was thrown out at third base on a grounder in the second inning.
Outfielder Matt Vinson followed with a single up the middle the next at-bat.
“We’re right there,” Van Horn said of the 2-0 deficit at the time. “What can I say?”
But Blank also worked his way out of other jams to keep Arkansas scoreless.
The Razorbacks didn’t break through until the seventh inning, when Ficociello’s third hit of the game was an RBI double. The run only trimmed the deficit to 6-1, though.
Baylor tacked on runs against Arkansas reliever Ty Wright in the seventh and eighth innings to extend its lead. Crayton Bare came out of the bullpen for the ninth inning and finished the game, wrapping up the win.
“We just didn’t have it and it showed on the scoreboard,” Baxendale said.
The good news? Arkansas is no stranger to falling behind in a three-game series.
The Razorbacks lost the opening game of a series seven times in 10 weeks during Southeastern Conference play. Arkansas rebounded to win the second game five times and won the series three times.
“If I know the team like I think I do, then don’t expect us to go out (today) without a fight,” Baxendale said. “Expect us to claw nine innings playing as hard as we can.”
Arkansas won’t have an easy road, though, facing Baylor pitcher Josh Turley. The left-hander is regarded as the Bears’ ace and will start opposite Arkansas’ Ryne Stanek.
But Ficociello believes the Razorbacks will shake off Saturday’s frustrations and force a deciding game on Monday.
“A lot of times you have to lose to motivate yourself a little more,” Ficociello said. “We didn’t come out ready enough (Saturday). So (today) we have to show everybody that we deserve to be here. Because we do.”