Chris Murray: Razorbacks Face Liberty in Virginia Regional Tonight


The Arkansas Razorbacks received no special treatment from the NCAA baseball selection committee, getting sent over 1,000 miles to Charlottesville, Va., for the regional hosted by the No. 3 national seed Virginia Cavaliers.

While other no. 2 seeds against whom the Razorbacks had success and compare favorably, namely Alabama, Mississippi State and Nebraska, were all kept relatively close to home, the Hogs were shipped to the Commonwealth. In recent years, Arkansas has been shipped to regionals in Palo Alto, Calif., and Tempe, Ariz., while also staying close to home – Norman, Okla., Houston, and Manhattan, Kan. Despite their strong finish to the season, the Razorbacks were apparently punished for a weaker RPI. Still, the Razorbacks are making their 13th consecutive regional appearance.

The Razorbacks face Liberty to open regional play at 6 tonight. The Flames, champions of the Big South after knocking off traditional power Coastal Carolina, are no pushover. Liberty is 41-16 overall and will be playing just 70 miles from home, with its campus located in Lynchburg, Va. Liberty, which was founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell, is no stranger to the regionals, having won two games at the Clemson site last season.

Liberty is led by second baseman Ryan Seiz, the slugging Big South player of the year who clubbed 12 homers this season. Catcher Danny Grauer and first baseman Alex Close also provide significant pop for the Flames. Right-hander Trey Lambert is expected to get the nod for the Flames. Lambert boasts an 11-2 record, with a sharp 2.10 ERA. Freshman Parker Bean is their solid no. 2, with a 7-2 record and 2.71 ERA.

Arkansas gives the starting nod to Chris Oliver. He and Trey Killian have essentially been 1 and 1A the last few weeks, almost interchangeable with their quality outings. Oliver is 8-4 with a 2.45 ERA, with his last start coming in the Hogs 2-1 win over Ole Miss on May 21. Oliver pitched into the seventh inning that day, allowing just one unearned run.

A Razorback win would set up a likely meeting with host Virginia at 7 p.m. Saturday. Should the Flames win, Arkansas would play an elimination game at 1 p.m. Saturday. If Arkansas can get by the Flames, Saturday night’s matchup with the Cavaliers could be an epic one. Killian gives Arkansas a legitimate chance at winning every time he takes the mound, although his record of 4-8 belies his 2.18 ERA. His teammates have given Killian very little run support. That will need to change if the Hogs are going to get out of the Charlottesville regional.

Arkansas’ offense has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. Brian Anderson, Joe Serrano and Andrew Benintendi continue to be the most productive hitters, while the emergence of Clark Eagan and Blake Baxendale has bolstered the lineup. Eric Fisher’s slugging has produced nine homers, and he is clearly the Hogs’ top power threat. Meanwhile, Michael Bernal and Alex Gosser have recently come through with timely hits, and could be key contributors.

Virginia remains the clear favorite to emerge as regional champions. The Cavaliers were ranked no. 1 in the nation for most of the season. They went 44-13 in the regular season, with a 22-8 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In his 11th year as Virginia coach, Brian O’Connor has turned the Cavaliers into a true national power. Virginia has won 245 games in the last five seasons, has reached the College World Series in both 2009 and 2011, and is hosting a regional for the fourth consecutive year.

Cavaliers reliever Nick Howard is probably the top closer in the country, with 18 saves and a 2.22 ERA, and is also a hard-hitting third baseman. First baseman Mike Papi led the ACC with 10 home runs. Virgina has a talented outfield of Brandon Downes, Derek Fisher and Joe McCarthy. All three have capable bats, and are standout defenders, as the Cavs have built a strong defensive team to suit the spacious Davenport Field.

Artie Lewicki (5-1, 1.99 ERA) gets the start for the Cavs today against Bucknell, the champions of the Patriot League. Virgina is holding back staff ace, lefty Nathan Kirby, for the second round. Kirby is 8-1 with a miniscule 1.48 ERA.

The winner of the Charlottesville regional will face off with the winner of the Columbia regional, hosted by South Carolina. Tonight’s game is available on ESPNU. All regional games will be available on either ESPNU or streaming through ESPN3.

Razorbacks Face Liberty

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