By Otis Kirk
Arkansas had great pitching and timely hitting to defeat North Carolina 4-1 on Saturday in the Chapel Hill Super Regional before a sold-out crowd.
Connor Noland (7-5) pitched 6 2/3 innings to earn the win and keep the Tar Heels off balance throughout the game. Noland was only in trouble for one inning. The Tar Heels loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first. Noland struck out Alberta Osuna for the second out. He then took a Mikey Madej line drive to his leg only to recover and throw him out at first base to end the inning. Dave Van Horn praised both pitching staffs.
“Both teams pitched extremely well,” Van Horn said. “The first four innings flew by. Connor got into a jam in the first one and got out of it. After that, he settled in. The next three innings were pretty quiet.”
It was a scoreless game until the Razorbacks scored three runs in the top of the fifth. Peyton Stovall led off the inning with a flick over the fence in center field for a 1-0 lead. Zack Gregory then walked and Braydon Webb singled. A wild pitch allowed Gregory and Webb to advance one base. Brady Slavens then singled to center field to drive in Gregory. Cayden Wallace hit a sacrifice fly to left field that allowed Webb to cross the plate for a 3-0 lead.
“We got the leadoff home run there in the fifth that loosened us up a little bit,” Van Horn said. “We ended up scoring a couple more runs. We were really looking forward to that third race there. Wallace fought back, had a good at-bat and hit the sacrifice fly.”
In the top of the seventh, Gregory walked to start the inning. Webb also walked. Slavens then hit a shot to center field that easily carried Gregory home. However, Webb tried to get from first to third and North Carolina All-America rookie Vance Honeycutt shot him down at third base.
Honeycutt gave the Tar Heels their only run of the game in the bottom of the eight when he sent Evan Taylor’s pitch over the wall in left field. The Tar Heels finished with eight hits to nine for the Hogs. Arkansas left nine stranded on base and North Carolina eight.
Webb was hot for the Razorbacks. He had three hits to lead the offensive attack. Slavens had two singles. Wallace, Stovall, Michael Turner and Chris Lanzilli each had one hit.
Noland allowed six hits, no runs, one walk, fanned a half-dozen, faced 27 batters and threw 89 pitches. Taylor pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowing one hit, the home run and striking out one batter. Hagan Smith worked the ninth inning allowing one hit and striking out a batter to earn his second save of the season. Smith has now earned saves in the Razorbacks’ last two games, this one and a 7-3 victory over Oklahoma State. Noland talked about his success after the first inning.
“I just made better pitches,” Noland said. “In the first inning they were attacking the fastball, so I started mixing up the slider there.”
Honeycutt, Danny Seretti and Colby Wilkerson each hit two for the Tar Heels. Madej, who was the Most Valuable Player of the Chapel Hill Regional, and Angel Zárate added a hit each.
Max Carlson pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing six hits, three runs, two walks and four strikeouts. Carlson (4-3) took the loss. Nik Pry and Caden O’Brien also pitched for the Tar Heels.
Jaxon Wiggins (6-3, 6.12) is expected to start for Arkansas on Sunday. The Razorbacks will pretty much have a rested bullpen and Brady Tygart won’t be used on Saturday. Will McEntire is also available, though Van Horn might prefer to use him on Monday if a third game is necessary.
Brandon Schaeffer (7-3, 3.73) is the expected starter for North Carolina on Sunday. North Carolina (42-21) and Arkansas (42-19) will start at noon with the Razorbacks one win away from heading to the College World Series. The game will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2.