But the Cavaliers showed they still know how to take borderline pitches against the big righthander in a 5-3 victory Saturday in the opener of the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park.
Kenny Towns took two close pitches on the outside of the plate with two strikes, then fought off a 3-2 pitch for a double into the right field corner to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning.
“It came down to that at bat and (Towns) is the four-hole hitter for a reason,” said Dave Van Horn, the Arkansas coach. “He took a close pitch at 1-2, and we thought we had him at 2-2. The next pitch he got the double down the line and all of a sudden they had the lead.
“It was a big at bat. The game came down to that.”
Jackson didn't argue with the call from home plate umpire Jeff Henrichs.
“I would say they were maybe a ball off the plate,” Jackson said. “Sometimes you get that, sometimes you don’t, but it felt like he was pretty consistent all day, so it’s not something you can complain about. He was fair to both teams.”
The Cavs ousted the Hogs in NCAA play last season when Jackson started and couldn't make it out of the third inning with control problems. He was 5-0 with nine saves this season. The loss Saturday went to starter Trey Killian after he allowed a lead-off single to Daniel Pinero in the eighth, then gave way to Jackson.
Jackson struck out Matt Thaiss, but allowed Pinero to steal second and third. Catcher Tucker Pennell did not get much help with the way he held Pinero, particularly at second base.
“The runner was giving it away,” said Van Horn. “You have to recognize what they are doing on the bases. Hats off to them, we caught them three times, but they stole five.”
Pinero, who stole three on the day, said the plan was to run on Jackson. He had swiped only six on the season, in eight attempts.
“We knew he had a high leg kick,” Pinero said. “I was creeping and it all worked to our advantage.”
Pinero had not been much of a base stealer, but Virginia coach Brian O'Connor recalls a similar steal of third in the CWS last year.
“He did it then, too, and I can't tell you why,” O'Connor said. “Earlier in the game, he was at second and was jumping around. I said to myself, 'Please, Daniel, not now.' But it was a big play. It gave us a chance to score with a fly ball.”
Towns said there was film study of both Killian and Jackson from last year's regional. It came down to a defensive at bat in the eighth.
“I was on the defensive right away,” Towns said. “When I got to 1-2, I was just trying to make sure, gotta put the ball in play. And, I was able to take some close pitches and get myself in a better count, a full count, and was able to see that breaking ball pretty well and put a good swing on it.”
O'Connor said, “Certainly it was the at-bat of the game. Jackson's their guy. Kenny's driven in runs for us all year long. He fell down 1-2 and what a great two-strike approach he had for those last three pitches.
“Jackson throws him a 3-2 breaking ball and he's got a great approach and hits it the other way. Those are the kind of things players with talent do and they need to rise up and win games like this.
“The difference between winning and losing is so fine and that's the big reason why we brought in Josh Sborz in in the seventh inning. And sometimes it's one hit like that that makes a difference and Kenny delivered it.”
The difference in the game was two-out hits. Virginia scored all five runs with two outs. The Cavs were 4 of 10 with runners in scoring position. The Hogs had only one hit in nine chances with runners in scoring position.
Shortstop Michael Bernal had a tough day. He hit into two double plays. He also popped out on a bunt attempt with two runners on. Tucker Pennell bounced into a double play on the next at bat.
“There were the three double plays and we didn't get the bunt down,” Van Horn said. “When you don't get the bunt down, the next guy does usually hit into a double play.
“We left too many on base early when we had a chance to break it open. Their starter, Connor Jones, did a good job of getting out of trouble. They got the two-out hits, we didn't.”
Killian said the two-out hits “were all mistakes. The home run was supposed to be a fast ball away and I left it in and up. Then, I got lazy with my curve ball and they have a solid lineup.”
Jackson was disappointed not to pick up Killian after a solid start.
“Yeah, it’s definitely harder, especially as well as Trey pitched,” Jackson said. “That should be a win every time, going against a club like that and giving up three runs in 7 1/3. Just a great outing. It’s tough to swallow. It felt like we had that ballgame. It’s just not our day I guess.”
The margin between winning and losing can be slim.
“That’s what it’s all about.,” Jackson said. “That game could have gone either way. They put themselves in a position to win, so did we. Things just happened to go their way today. We’ll have to come back Monday and get ‘em.”
Van Horn was pleased to use only Killian and Jackson. He's likely to start freshman Keaton McKinney or senior Jackson Lowery in the loser's bracket game at 2 p.m. Monday. He wouldn't commit to a starter in the interview room.
“We'll see how they are at practice tomorrow,” Van Horn said later. “I didn't want to say for sure because I want to see how Keaton feels. But, he's going to start unless something isn't right tomorrow.”
McKinney has been bothered by a sore hip since a start in the regular-season finale at Georgia. He was given a cortisone shot to help the healing on Monday. He didn't make it out of the second inning in the Sunday victory over Missouri State.
Zach Jackson gave up three hits.
Daniel Pinero slides under the tag from Bobby Wernes.
Tucker Pennell threw out three runners, but gave up five stolen bases.