State of the Hogs: Game Slows Down

Arkansas outfielder Matt Vinson struggled much of the season -- to the point he went to the bench. But at the College World Series it's been clutch hitting by Vinson that has powered the 2-0 Razorbacks.

OMAHA, Neb. -- Sometimes to speed up, you first have to slow down. Matt Vinson has been waiting for three seasons for the game to slow down. And now he's speeding up as it does that -- at the College World Series of all places.

Vinson, junior outfielder from Alma, has rapped big hits in each of the two Arkansas victories at the CWS. He had a two-run double against Kent State to blow open an 8-1 victory. And he provided what proved to be the game winner Monday night, an RBI single against South Carolina.

"I have to be honest and tell you that my approach hasn't changed any this season," Vinson said after the Hogs ended the Carolina 22-game NCAA tournament winning streak.

"I've been in the lineup ever since South Carolina came to our place (when Jacob Morris broke a finger). I haven't missed a game in center field since then. I am just trying to compete and enjoy it. This is what you come to school for, to play in these kind of games that we've had the last month. So it's been fun."

Vinson has always provided solid defense, sometimes spectacular defense. He still has the play of the year, a catch he made in left to rob a home run early this season. That play made the ESPN top 10 highlights for a few days. He said it will always be his signature moment at Arkansas.

Well, maybe not. He's getting the big hits at the bottom of the Arkansas batting order that were often missing this season.

"But I'm not doing anything different," he said. "Maybe I'm getting a few more pitches to hit. I've gotten some pitches up in the last two games. But I think it's just getting at bats and time at the plate.

"It's no fun watching," Vinson said. "I was glad for the team to be doing well and you don't want Morris to have an injury. But it's so much fun to be out there right now.

"I think part of it is getting time out there every day. You know you are in the lineup. Our hitting coach, Todd Butler, told me that with enough ABs that the game does slow down. I can say that it is slowing down for me right now. I'm seeing the pitch earlier. I'm picking it up and seeing the spin (between a fast ball and a breaking ball). When the game slows down, it all changes.

"What I'm doing is getting set up on the pitch early. I can see that it's a curve and get set up for it. And then it's just about not trying to do too much with it. I know it's a bigger stage than what we've had, but that's not making it any different for me. It's just about getting things to slow down.

"It's a great feeling. I'm trying to help my team out the best I can. I keep doing my best. If there is a guy in scoring position, I'm going to try to get him in the best I can. So I just happened to get a hit in a couple of games."

It's kind of odd, but no one is talking about Vinson's struggles. His batting average has actually gone up 10 points to .212 in two games of Omaha. Now it's Dominic Ficociello and Matt Reynolds that have been talked about as struggling. Ficociello plated a first-inning run with a big gap hit. Reynolds didn't get a hit, but moved runners twice.

"I was glad to get the hit," said Ficociello, asked afterwards if he was more proud of his single or his late-inning scoop of a low Tim Carver throw. "I take the hit. I'm supposed to pick everything.

"I wouldn't say I've been struggling, but maybe I've been struggling to find a hole somewhere. I've been getting good contact, but they have been getting caught."

Ficociello's hit came on a 3-0 count.

"Coach (Dave) Van Horn gave me the green light and I was not late on the fast ball," he said. "I timed it up. The guy had good velocity, but I was ready for it."

Reynolds wasn't worried about going O-for-Omaha. He was concentrating on moving runners and playing defense.

"We know what we have to do, play great behind these pitchers," Reynolds said. "I do look forward to a couple of good days at practice (in the batting cage). But gosh, this has been awesome. I couldn't ask for anything better. It's so exciting.

"Our guys are pitching so well. They don't walk anyone and they make great pitches. Ryne Stanek is always tough to hit, but tonight he really settled in.

"I think the first inning is always the toughest for a starting pitcher. There are probably some nerves. But he got through that first inning. I told him in the dugout, you are past the first one. The tough inning is out of the way.

"Then Barrett Astin was phenomenal. He had ice in his veins. He's an awesome guy. You could see him compete. The bigger the situation, the bigger he becomes.

"Our defense loves to play behind these guys. We know our pitchers are going to pound the zone and we get to make a play. We are playing fun baseball right now."



Matt Vinson is just trying to play his best baseball.



Matt Vinson thinks the game is slowing down at the plate with more playing time.

Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated


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