Six-run third inning helps Virginia end Arkansas’ season


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn believed his team needed a perfect performance to keep its season alive against top-seed Virginia.

It was clear by the third inning the Razorbacks weren’t getting it.

Virginia took advantage of Arkansas starter Zach Jackson’s struggles in the third and had a left-handed pitcher dominate the Razorbacks for the second straight night during a 9-2 win in the Charlottesville Regional. The Cavaliers (47-13) advanced to a Super Regional for the second straight year, while Arkansas (40-25) was eliminated.

It was the second straight season the Razorbacks lost in a regional final on the road.

“They have an outstanding team,” Van Horn said. “They put together a couple of big innings the last couple days and held us down offensively.

“They’re going to be awfully tough next weekend. … We just ran out of gas.”

Arkansas knew it had to travel a daunting path after Virginia ace Nathan Kirby pitched the Cavaliers to a 3-0 win Saturday night. The Razorbacks needed two wins Sunday to force a deciding game Monday night, but carried some hope into its second game after beating Bucknell 10-0 earlier in the day.

The Razorbacks equaled a season-high with 16 hits against the Bison and got their 10th shutout of the season to earn another crack at the Cavaliers.

Jackson (2-3) got off to a promising start, too, retiring six straight to open the game a night after Virginia shelled Arkansas veteran Trey Killian in the early innings. The hard-throwing right-hander, who was making his second start after pitching out of the bullpen throughout the regular season, struck out three of the first six batters.

But everything unraveled for the Razorbacks in the third inning.

The freshman — whose longest stint was 3 2/3 — allowed a leadoff single to Virginia’s John La Prise and hit Brandon Downes to start the inning. The bases were loaded with two outs when Jackson issued his third free pass of the inning by walking first baseman Mike Papi to give Virginia a 1-0 lead.

“We’re one pitch from getting out of the that jam,” Van Horn said. “At the time we’re thinking we’re not going to throw (Papi) a fastball down the middle. Give up one on a walk instead of three or four …

“It’s kind of what happened after that. We didn’t make a play.”

Back-to-back singles pushed Virginia’s lead to 4-0, then an error by Arkansas shortstop Michael Bernal loaded the bases once again. La Prise came to the plate for the second time and got his second hit of the inning, driving in two more runs with a single off Arkansas reliever Landon Simpson to make it 6-0.

Arkansas allowed three hits, issued two walks, hit a batter and committed an error in the third inning. It gave the Cavaliers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“Everybody was being aggressive and taking really good swings,” La Prise said. “Hitting is contagious. When people are being aggressive good things happen.”

Virginia left-hander Brandon Waddell (8-3) continued the Cavaliers’ impressive pitching performance in the regional, limiting the Razorbacks to two runs over his 6 2/3 innings Sunday. Arkansas threatened early when Brian Anderson and Tyler Spoon singled off Waddell, but he got designated hitter Krisjon Wilkerson to ground into an inning-ending double play to end the threat.

Waddell cruised until the seventh, when Wilkerson clubbed a two-run home run over the left-field fence to cut Virginia’s lead to 6-2. The runs were the first allowed by Virginia’s three starters — Kirby, Waddell and Artie Lewicki — in 21 2/3 innings.

“Brandon Waddell was spectacular,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “He was in complete control and just did it again like all three of our starters did this weekend.”

Reliever Whitt Mayberry got Virginia out of the seventh inning without any more damage and Virginia extended the lead to 9-2 by scoring three runs off the Arkansas bullpen in the ninth inning. Mayberry recorded the final out by striking out Wilkerson, kicking off Virginia’s regional victory celebration Sunday night.

Arkansas, meanwhile, walked off the field with another disappointing end.

The Razorbacks — who went 9-3 down the stretch to secure an NCAA Regional berth for the 13th straight season — did reach the 40-win mark for the fifth time in the past six years. They also played in a regional final for the sixth straight season.

But Arkansas couldn’t get the result it was hoping for when the regional began.

“I just appreciate the effort,” Van Horn said. “When we had 18, 19, 20 wins and probably 14, 15, losses, it wasn’t looking really good for us. But they kicked it into gear. They kept working. We were real patient with these guys. We weren’t on them. We were just trying to motivate them. … The effort is what I’m going to remember.”