State of the Hogs: Tearful Finish

Dave Van Horn told his team there should be no tears shed in Omaha. The Arkansas coach told his team to come back as alumnus to celebrate one day when the Hogs win the College World Series. The Hogs lost two tight games at the CWS with Miami ending their season Monday, 4-3.

OMAHA, Neb. -- The tears flowed in the outfield as Arkansas players came to the realization that their improbable season had come to an end after two games of the College World Series.

Miami ousted the Hogs, 4-3, Monday with a Jacob Heyward's walk-off hit in the ninth inning. Arkansas finished the season at 40-25.

"I told them I didn't want to see the tears," said a dry-eyed Dave Van Horn, the proud Arkansas coach. "You will never see me shed a tear when you finish the year in Omaha."

It was clear that Joe Serrano, Rick Nomura and Bobby Wernes had cried before coming to the interview room. Jackson Lowery was emotional in the locker room, hardly able to answer questions.

"It’s been a heck of a ride," Lowery said. "We’re just a bunch of gritty ball players. I don’t know how else to describe my teammates.

"Love to play the game, love to be around each other. I’m proud to be a small part of all this. Thank you to the fans, my family and everyone for supporting us. I’m just going to miss all of it. I’m going to miss the jersey, the fans and the No. 1 thing is I’m going to miss my teammates.

So what did Van Horn tell a team that rallied from a 12-13 start to fight all the way to the College World Series?

"I told them to come back as an alumnus and help us celebrate when we win it. This is a great group and I'm so proud of them. I told them that. I've told them all year.

"We had out shots. We were one hit away both games here. We had our chances to break open both games, but we couldn't get that one big hit. We had out chances, but we couldn't get that lead late. We get that lead late, I know what would have happened. Zach Jackson would have closed it and we would have won."

Jackson got his chances, too. He gave up the game-winning hit in a 5-3 loss to Virginia on Saturday. Then, given the ball in a 3-3 game Monday, Jackson gave up his first loss since the season finale at Virginia in the NCAA tournament last season.

The Hogs couldn't get Jackson any runs in the closing innings of the two losses at Omaha. They had runners on base in 16 of the 18 innings in Omaha, including the lead-off runner in 14 innings. But they scored just six runs in the two losses. They were 4-for-23 with runners in scoring position in the two games in the CWS.

The Hogs left the bases loaded in the top of the ninth with the score tied. Carson Shaddy singled, Joe Serrano sacrificed him to second, Bobby Wernes popped to center, Andrew Benintendi was walked intentionally, Tyler Spoon reached on an error before Rick Nomura bounced out to second.

It was a bitter-sweet ending for Nomura. He had three hits and a walk before Miami closer Bryan Garcia got him out.

"I thought Rick put together a good at bat," Van Horn said. "(Garcia) has really good stuff. He has a good fast ball and a change up. Rick battled some pitches off. He hit that last one good, but it was right at the second baseman. That's how it works sometimes. Rick had a great day."

Willie Abreu led off the ninth with a double to the base of the wall just under the 408 marker in dead center. Heyward had given Miami a 2-0 lead in the fifth with a home run, but Miami coach Jim Morris asked him to bunt over pinch runner Carl Chester in the ninth. After missing two attempts, Heyward cracked a clean hit to right center to end the game.

Van Horn said there was no thought of walking Heyward, noting, "We had him down 0-2 real quick. If it had gone to 3-2, we would have. It was a curve ball that Jackson elevated a little, a mistake. The double was a fast ball he elevated a little, too."

Van Horn was still thinking about what might have been in the top of the eighth.

"I thought we pulled a rabbit out of the hat then," he said. "We had the slug bunt on the hit and run. We got one out of that, but we should have gotten more."

The eighth started with Spoon's single and Nomura's grounder up the middle with Spoon beating the throw at second. McAfee failed twice to bunt them up, then appeared to be bunting again with two strikes. But he hit away with a bouncer through the vacated hole at second on the steal. Spoon scored with Nomura racing to third.

The eighth ended without further damage when Clark Eagan popped to the shortstop in shallow center with Nomura electing not to tag. Shortstop Michael Bernal bounced into his third double play of the CWS to end the inning.

Miami coach Jim Morris saw the fight in the Hogs and called it a huge effort by his bullpen.

"I want to congratulate Arkansas on their season," Morris said. "They did a great job every inning coming back and getting the lead-off guy on and for five straight innings they got the lead-off guy and kept answering him back. That's a credit to a good team. They kept battling.

"You could see why they won and why they're in the World Series. And did a great job there. But for us, you know, huge win. It's a huge win."

Arkansas freshman Keaton McKinney pitched gamely to open the game, but ran out of steam in the fifth. Garrett Kennedy opened the fifth with a single. Then, after Spoon chased down two flies, Heyward homered off of reliever Jackson Lowery.

McKinney had battled a hip injury for most of the last month. A cortisone shot last week provided some relief, but his leg gave out in the fifth and his velocity dipped. McKinney told pitching coach Dave Jorn the tank was empty after Kennedy's hit.

"He did a great job and gave us four good innings," Van Horn said. "Jorn said when he went out to talk to Keaton, he said he was about done. So we made the move pretty quick. We didn't want to hurt him. He gave us a great effort and now he can get some rest for that hip this summer."

Van Horn said it's hard for him to put in perspective what this team has done. No one expected an Omaha trip after a rock start that included a 1-5 SEC open.

"I may can reflect a little better after I go recruiting for a couple of weeks," he said. "Maybe I can tell you a little more.

"Obviously, I appreciate what they've done. We've come a long way. I'm so proud of them. They continued to play hard no matter what happened. You saw a little of the way we've played up here. What we did the last 45 days, the way we continued to grind. We played a lot of close games and showed a lot of mental toughness."

Benintendi said it was hard to express what his teammates mean to him. He's likely done, expected to sign a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $4 million from the Boston Red Sox in the coming week. He said Van Horn spoke of his pride in their fight afterwards.

"Just that he’s proud of us and we’re a great team," Benintendi said. "I didn’t really hear much, but just that for our season to end and not win it all, but we ended up where we wanted to have our last game here in Omaha. This whole year has been a grind. It’s definitely gonna be a good memory.

"We were talking the other day, coach (Tony) Vitello was, and we’re not the most talented and not the best on paper, but we just get it done somehow. It’s not always the prettiest way, but we find ways to win, it just didn’t come through today.

"We’ve been together now since last September almost every single day. We probably know each other more than we should know your teammates. It’s been fun, this whole year. Looking back in a few years, it’s going to be special."

But right now, it's tough to hold back the tears.

Zach Jackson

Andrew Benintendi

Jackson Lowery

Clark Eagan

Dave Van Horn protests a call by the home plate umpire when Clark Eagan was hit by a pitch.

Tyler Spoon steals second base.

Rick Nomura had three hits on the day.

Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated

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