The Arkansas Razorbacks will make their 11th trip to Omaha (Neb.) for the College World Series after knocking off the North Carolina Tar Heels in game two of the Chapel Hill Super Regional. This marks the Hogs’ seventh trip to Omaha under head coach Dave Van Horn and their first since 2019.
“This is awesome,” Van Horn said. “This is special because of the way it went down last year. It was tough last year at this time. It never gets old, it’s hard. What never gets old is the satisfaction and smiles on the player’s faces. I mean, it’s something they’ll never forget. That’s probably what I enjoy most honestly now.”
For the second day in a row, the Hogs got a big-time effort from their starting pitcher. Sophomore Will McEntire was outstanding in the first NCAA Tournament start of his career, turning in 5.2 scoreless innings of work while striking out four UNC hitters. He threw 20 pitches in two scoreless innings before a lightning delay forced him to sit nearly two hours, but he continued to cruise when the game resumed.
“I got the text this morning (about starting) and knew I needed to do the job and get my team to Omaha,” McEntire said. “I was excited. This is probably the best day of life.”
The Razorbacks got on the board with a two-run double in the fourth inning by Jalen Battles. They extended their lead to two in the fifth inning when Braydon Webb hit his 15th home run of the season to right-center field.
The Tar Heels scored two runs in the seventh to tie it and took a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth with an RBI single from Patrick Alvarez. But the Hogs answered quickly in the bottom of the ninth as Jalen Battles and Peyton Stovall singled to start the inning, and Brady Slavens’ single to right field drove home the game-winning run.
“We felt like we could score one run, and obviously I wasn’t going to play for the tie,” Van Horn said. “It’s supposed to be 97 degrees tomorrow. I wanted to win tonight. We swung it. You think about the at bats there, Peyton Stovall, he’s on fire right now. I mean, the only out he made he hit the ball hard at second base. What a great at bat, slashing one into the gap. First and third, nobody out. We felt like we were going to win the game.”
McEntire issued a one-out walk to Vance Honeycutt in the top of the first inning before inducing a 3-6-3 double play ball to end the frame quickly. UNC starter Brandon Schaeffer needed just nine pitches to retire the Hogs in order in the bottom half.
Alberto Osuna recorded the first hit of the afternoon as he singled out to start the second, but McEntire retired the next three Tar Heels in order and collected his first strikeout. The Hogs forced Schaeffer to work a bit in the bottom half as Chris Lanzilli and Peyton Stovall singled, but Schaeffer escaped the jam and left the bases loaded as the score remained 0-0.
Right after the conclusion of the second inning, the two teams entered a lightning delay that lasted nearly two full hours before action resumed. But both McEntire and Schaeffer stayed in the game for their respective teams.
The delay didn’t seem to affect either pitcher too much as both teams went down in order in the third inning. McEntire kept it rolling in the top of the fourth as he worked around a two-out single to keep the score at 0-0.
The Razorbacks jumped in front with a run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Michael Turner led the frame off with a single to right field, and Jalen Battles later put the Hogs up 1-0 with an RBI double down the line in left field with two outs. McEntire continued to cruise in the fifth and tossed another 1-2-3 inning to keep the momentum in the Razorback dugout.
Braydon Webb extended the Arkansas lead with his 15th home run of the season, a solo shot to right-center field to make it 2-0. Brady Slavens and Cayden Wallace singled after him, but a double play ended the inning and limited the damage after UNC turned to the bullpen and Gage Gillian.
The Tar Heels put a runner in scoring position for the first time in the sixth inning after a leadoff single by Colby Wilkerson and a walk to Honeycutt. With two outs, McEntire gave way to RHP Kole Ramage, who quickly induced a popup to end the frame and leave two UNC runners stranded. In the bottom of the sixth, the Tar Heels turned to their hard-throwing closer in Davis Palermo, and he retired the side in order.
Things turned quickly in the top of the seventh. Mikey Madej started the frame with a leadoff single against Ramage, who hit the next batter. With two on and no outs, Arkansas turned to lefty Evan Taylor. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners up, UNC brought in a pinch hitter, which led the Hogs to bring in RHP Brady Tygart. A groundout up the middle scored the first Tar Heel run, and then a wild pitch brought home another to tie the game at 2-2.
Stovall began the bottom of the seventh for the Razorbacks with his second single of the day. After a Zack Gregory bunt moved him to scoring position, it appeared Slavens was going to drive him in with a single before Honeycutt made a diving catch in center to end the inning.
Tygart returned to start the top of the eighth before another lightning delay stopped action. This delay lasted for just under an hour before resuming with one out in the frame.
The Hogs turned to freshman Hagen Smith when action resumed with a 3-1 count to Honeycutt, who was walked on the first pitch he saw from Smith. After an infield single by Danny Serretti put two Tar Heels on with one away, Smith struck out Osuna before getting an inning-ending flyout to escape the jam.
Michael Turner recorded his second hit of the game with a one-out single in the bottom of the eighth. A walk to Chris Lanzilli moved him up to second, but another outstanding defensive play ended the inning as Serretti robbed Robert Moore of a hit and turned it into a 6-3 double play.
Smith returned in the ninth and allowed a leadoff double to the UNC catcher, Tomas Frick. Smith retired the next two Tar Heels before Patrick Alvarez delivered an RBI single to put UNC in front. Zack Morris came in and got the final out of the ninth for the Hogs, which made him the winning pitcher in the end.
Things turned around quickly in the bottom half as Jalen Battles and Peyton Stovall singled out to start the inning. After Kendall Diggs came in to pinch hit and worked a walk to load the bases, Webb tied the game with a fielder’s choice before Slavens’ single through the right side ended the game.