CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Arkansas pitcher Chris Oliver struggled with control issues through a five-inning start against Liberty on Friday night.
Sophomore Trey Killian’s outing was even shorter because of an injury Saturday.
Killian turned in his shortest start since the season opener after a blister formed on his finger during the 3-0 loss to Virginia on Saturday. The right-hander struggled during his start and eventually left the mound after allowing three runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings, turning the game over to freshman Dominic Taccolini.
“It popped up in the warm-up pitches in the fourth inning,” Killian said.
It was the second straight night the Razorbacks got less than expected from its starters, who have pitched deep into games most of the season. Killian (4-9) had problems before the blister Saturday, allowing a two-run home run in the first inning and another run in the third before leaving the mound in the fourth.
“I just wasn’t myself,” Killian said. “I couldn’t hit my spots.”
Killian’s shortest outing came in his season debut, throwing 2 2/3 innings in a loss to South Alabama on March 1. He had lasted six innings or more in 11 of his next 12 starts before Saturday’s early exit at Davenport Field.
It meant Arkansas — which had counted on quality starts from Oliver and Killian — only got 8 1/3 innings out of its top two starters to begin the Charlottesville Regional. The Razorbacks’ third starter most of the season — left-hander Jalen Beeks — also hasn’t pitched in the past month because of an elbow injury.
The Razorbacks loss to Virginia came with the Cavaliers’ ace, Nathan Kirby, on the mound. It was the fifth time in seven games Arkansas has faced a staff ace. It also was the third time in five games against a conference’s pitcher of the year.
Kirby was especially dominant Saturday, allowing one hit in eight innings. The left-hander improved to 9-1 and moved Virginia one win away from advancing to a Super Regional for the second straight season.
Arkansas entered the regional confident it was prepared to face strong pitching after an SEC Tournament run that included three games against staff aces. The Razorbacks beat Texas A&M’s Daniel Mengden and Ole Miss’ Chris Ellis, then lost to LSU’s Austin Nola during its first three games of the tournament.
The Razorbacks squeezed enough runs across the plate to beat Liberty’s ace, Trey Lambert, on Friday night. But the success couldn’t continue against Kirby.
Arkansas’ past six games came against starting pitchers who were a combined 46-10 before facing the Razorbacks. The slate has included pitchers of the year from the SEC (Nola), ACC (Kirby) and the Big South (Lambert).
Bucknell coach Scott Heather, who pitched at Arkansas in 1997 and 1998, has enjoyed some memorable moments at Virginia’s Davenport Field.
Heather earned his first win as a head coach during an early-season tournament at Davenport Field on March 3, 2013, beating Harvard 7-4. He added his first NCAA Tournament victory — and just the second in the program’s history — when the Bison beat Liberty 5-2 in Saturday’s elimination game.
Heather is now 2-4 in games at Davenport Field the past two seasons. Three of the losses have come against Virginia, which has outscored his team 31-6.
“This place has been good to me,” Heather said. “I had my first career win against Harvard here last year. And now my first career regional win.
“Except when we’re playing UVA, Davenport has been pretty good.”
Liberty, which was in the regional host conversation because of its success early this season, came to the Charlottesville Regional as a dangerous No. 3 seed. But the Flames became the first team eliminated after the loss to Bucknell on Saturday.
It ended a season in which the Flames won the Big South’s regular season championship, received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time and sported one of the top pitching staffs in the country (2.62 ERA).
Liberty coach Jim Toman acknowledged his team’s accomplishments Saturday, but he couldn’t get over the 0-2 finish after reaching a regional final in 2013.
“We played pretty well (Friday) night. If we beat Arkansas, who knows what could happen,” Toman said of the 3-2 loss. “But obviously didn’t play well early (Saturday) and after the first inning didn’t swing it very well. We’ll sit back and, maybe, in a couple weeks I’ll feel pretty good about the season. Right now I don’t.”
Bison pitching plan
The Bison got a big effort from starting pitcher Dan Weigel, who allowed two runs on four hits in a complete-game win against Liberty. But Heather said Bucknell is not out of quality starters as it plays another elimination game Sunday.
Bucknell will send right-hander Andrew Andreychik (5-4, 3.56 ERA) to the mound to try to extend the season. The sophomore has started 11 times and logged a team-high four complete games.
“He’s been our No. 3 all year and at times he’s been our best guy,” Heather said. “He’s a good competitor. He’ll throw strikes as well and give us a chance to win.”