It more than lived up to the hype.
Top MLB draft prospects, Nick Lodolo, of TCU, and Isaiah Campbell, of Arkansas, matched zeroes for five innings Saturday night in a winner’s bracket game in the Fayetteville Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Lodolo, however, struggled with his command and had to escape a bases-loaded mess in the fourth and another jam in the fifth. Lodolo was lifted after a lead-off single in the sixth, and the Razorbacks took advantage of a failed doubled play to score three times in the inning.
That was more than enough for Arkansas, which held on for a 3-1 win in front of a crowd of almost 11,000. No. 3 seed TCU (33-27) plays No. 4 seed Central Connecticut in an elimination game at 2 p.m. Sunday. The winner of that game stays alive to play Arkansas at 8 p.m. Sunday. The top-seed Razorbacks beat the Blue Devils in the opening game of the regional Friday afternoon. The Blue Devils (31-22) stayed alive Saturday afternoon by eliminating No. 2 seed Cal.
“I thought Campbell was outstanding. We didn’t get very many good swings on him at all,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Nick just lost command of the strike zone just enough to give them some opportunities.”
If the Horned Frogs stay alive Sunday, they’ll have to beat the Razorbacks twice to win the regional. If TCU wins twice Sunday, the regional championship would be at 6 p.m. Monday.
Haylen Green, who replaced Lodolo in the sixth, fielded a comebacker and started a potential 1-6-3 double play, but shortstop Adam Oviedo failed to control the catch. At first the runner at second was ruled out, but after a replay review, it was determined Oviedo never had control of the throw. Catcher Zach Humphreys made an excellent sliding catch behind home plate on a failed bunt attempt for the first out. But Casey Opitz’s bases-loaded single to center scored two, and Tevor Ezell’s single to right pushed the lead to 3-0.
“In the fourth inning I just lost it there,” said Lodolo, who is likely to be among the top 10 picks of Monday’s MLB draft. “I couldn’t tell you why, I just did. I feel like when I regained it was when I needed to.”
The Frogs were very close to escaping the sixth without any damage done, Schlossnagle said, wistfully contemplating what could have been.
“That ball could have easily been a foot left and it’s an easy 6-4-3 or 6-3 double play but it wasn’t and we set the table for them with the error,” he said.
Meanwhile, Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell was cruising against the Horned Frogs’ lineup. He held TCU scoreless on two hits through six innings. While Lodolo was laboring to find the strike zone, Campbell was breezing, throwing only 45 pitches through the first four innings. He followed with a 1-2-3 fifth inning. He finally walked a batter in the sixth but still was at only 80 pitches entering the seventh.
“He showed why he’s one of the best pitchers in the country,” Humphreys said of Campbell. “He didn’t want to get behind … he worked both sides of the plate. It was just not a fun night to hit against him.”
In the seventh, Austin Henry doubled down the third-base line with one out and later scored on Humphreys’ sacrifice fly to center to pull TCU to within 3-1. Campbell allowed one run on four hits, a walk and struck out six in eight innings. Matt Cronin pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the save.
Lodolo walked four, including three in the fourth. He hit Christian Franklin on an 0-2 pitch to load the bases but struck out Jacob Nesbit with a slider down and in to end the inning. He was charged with one unearned run on four hits and four walks. He had six strikeouts. Green allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits in 2 1/3 innings of relief.
“After each inning we were saying, ‘That’s Round 1, that’s Round 2,’ just like it was a fight,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Who was going to make a mistake, or who was going to boot a ball? Both pitchers did a great job when runners got on base. They delivered pitches … give them credit for matching us pitch for pitch. We finally put together a really good inning in the sixth.”
In the eighth, left-fielder Josh Watson never located a fly pop, which allowed Trevor Ezell to reach with his third double of the game. He moved to third on a sac-bunt, but Augie Mihlbauer, who took over for Cal Coughlin, struck out Razorbacks’ No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Matt Goodheart and Dominic Fletcher, to strand the runner.