OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Arkansas’ DJ Baxendale bounced back from one of his worst starts of the year to turn in his best.
The junior right-hander held Kent State hitless into the fifth inning and combined with Brandon Moore on a four-hitter Saturday in the Razorbacks’ 8-1 victory that spoiled the Golden Flashes’ first appearance in the College World Series.
Baxendale’s performance was a lot different than his previous outing, when he was hit for five runs in four innings in an 8-1 loss to Baylor in the super regionals.
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“Against Baylor, I really felt like I let the team down,” Baxendale said. “To come out here at this stage and be able to get us a victory in Game 1, it was huge for not only my confidence but I think for the team’s as well. We know any time you can win the first game, it just keeps building off that.”
Baxendale and Moore got some unexpected help from the bottom of the lineup. No. 9 batter Jake Wise homered for the first time since February and also hit a two-run single. No. 8 batter Matt Vinson hit a two-run double that gave Arkansas (45-20) a 5-1 lead in the sixth.
“My 3 and 4 holers didn’t get a hit today and we scored eight runs. Somebody got it going,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “That’s a good sign.”
Kent State (46-19), the first team from the Mid-American Conference to make it to the CWS since Eastern Michigan in 1976, couldn’t get much going against Baxendale.
Baxendale didn’t allow a hit until Sawyer Polen’s infield single with two out in the fifth. He held the Flashes scoreless until Jimmy Rider homered in the sixth.
“DJ Baxendale was outstanding,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. “He kept us off balance. His fastball was sharp and he throws the breaking ball when he’s behind in the count. He really competes.”
Baxendale (8-5) allowed three hits, giving way to Moore with one out in the seventh. He struck out five and walked one. Moore pitched the last 2 2-3 innings for his third save.
Baxendale retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced before Polen ripped a hard grounder up the middle for a base hit. Second baseman Bo Bigham made a great stop, but his throw to first was wide and late.
“I knew after the first inning he had it because he threw every fastball right where he wanted it in the first inning, and that’s a telltale sign for him in watching him pitch for three years,” Van Horn said. “It’s been a big pleasure, and hopefully we’ll get him out there again before this is over with.”
Wearing their old-school gray uniforms with high socks, the Flashes struggled early against a Razorbacks team that was last in Omaha in 2009.
Kent State starter David Starn (11-4) walked three of the first four batters he faced and left after Vinson’s two-out double in the sixth.
Starn threw 24 pitches in the first inning, just eight for strikes, and walked the bases loaded before Brian Anderson’s hard liner up the middle knocked off the pitcher’s glove and brought home the first run. An inning-ending double play let Starn escape further damage.
“It was basically just a flaw in my mechanics,” Starn said. “I wasn’t really finishing my pitches. And I was leaving them arm-side, and that’s basically what happened with the control issues and everything.”
Wise made it 2-0 in the second when he went deep to left center for his second homer of the season, and first since the second game of the season on Feb. 19. It was the Razorbacks’ first homer since May 19, the last day of the regular season.
Wise came into the game 6 for his last 22 with seven strikeouts and with two home runs in 77 career games.
“When I hit it I thought it was a double,” Wise said. “The wind was blowing out a little bit and that helped it get out.”
Vinson was 4 for his last 26 with no RBIs and eight strikeouts before he delivered his two-run double in the sixth.
The Flashes will now try to stave off elimination playing in a bracket that includes two-time defending national champion South Carolina, No. 1 national seed Florida and an Arkansas team that just beat them.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re not just happy to be here,” Stricklin said. “We want to compete and get some wins and make a run at it. It’s still possible. We’re still here.”