Survive and advance. That's the name of the game once postseason play rolls around. And Arkansas did just that Friday night, fending off a pesky Liberty squad 3-2.
The Razorbacks, who are playing in their 13th consecutive regional under head coach Dave Van Horn, earned a matchup with regional host and No. 3 national seed Virginia Saturday at 7 p.m with the win, avoiding a dreaded loser's bracket matchup with Bucknell.
Nerves got to Arkansas early on, or at least starting pitcher Chris Oliver, who had trouble locating his fastball. The junior, who earned the game one start because of matchups, according to DVH, worked in and out of trouble in the opening innings. Liberty was first on the scoreboard in the game, getting to Oliver for a run in the second inning.
Postgame, Van Horn said he was "real close" to pulling his starter in the second. Arkansas had Landon Simpson up and warming in the bullpen, but Oliver calmed down and gave up just the one run, setting the table for the Razorback offense, Brian Anderson in particular.
Anderson was the star offensively for the Razorbacks. The second baseman compiled a pair of big hits and knocked in two huge runs to propel the Hogs. Anderson got the offense going in the bottom of the second with a home run to the opposite field to knot the game at one all.
The teams would trade zeros until the bottom of the fourth when Arkansas struck again. And again it was Brian Anderson delivering in a big spot. The Razorbacks executed a beautiful hit and run with Joe Serrano on first. Andrew Benintendi placed the ball perfectly through the left side, advancing Serrano to third with no outs. Anderson then singled to left, giving Arkansas a 2-1 lead.
Anderson became the first Razorback with 50+ RBI (51) in a season since Dominic Ficociello in 2011.
After a wild pitch to put runners on second and third, Tyler Spoon was intentionally walked to load the bases for third baseman Bobby Wernes. He would then bring home the Hogs third run of the night with an RBI groundout.
Liberty would answer in the next half inning with a sacrifice fly to pull the Flames within one run at 3-2, but Oliver shut the door in the fifth. It wasn't his best outing, but he got the job done, throwing five complete innings while issuing six walks and striking out four. He earned his ninth win of the season.
Michael Gunn entered the game in relief of Oliver and came through big for Arkansas, throwing three innings of scoreless, one-hit baseball, setting up for Jacob Stone to close the door in the ninth. Stone, after hitting the leadoff hitter, stranded the tying run on third base to end the ball game. Stone earned his fourth save of the season.
Now, Arkansas heads into a huge matchup with Virginia. Trey Killian will get the ball on the mound for the Razorbacks Saturday looking for his fifth win of the season.
Getting the first win in any regional is big. It puts less stress on the pitching staff, and can help relax the hitters at the plate. Arkansas can't relax too much, though. Virginia has lost just three times at home all season (32 games).