Arkansas moves within two wins of playing for a national championship

BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

OMAHA, Neb. –A year ago around this time, Houghton, La. prep baseball star Peyton Stovall was pondering what his future would be like the following summer.

Would Major League Baseball teams meet his asking price and take him to the first round of the July draft and thus immediately launch his professional career?

Or would he go to Fayetteville and play for one of college baseball’s elite programs with the idea of ​​eventually playing in the College World Series?

Razorback fans are no doubt happy that he ended up doing the latter.

Stovall continued his College World Series hot shot Tuesday night by going 5 of 6 with three RBIs in Arkansas’ 11-1 playoff win over Auburn.

Stovall is now 9 of 16 in three games in Omaha with a team-leading and CWS-leading 10 RBIs and increased his season average from .253 to over .300 in the postseason.

“I’m just playing with confidence,” Stovall told the SEC Network after the game. “That’s the biggest thing for me and the biggest thing for this team. Just getting out and relaxing and having fun.

Arkansas wide receiver Michael Turner, who had three of his team’s 16 hits in the win, knew Stovall was on the verge of a breakout.

“He’s a stallion,” Turner said. “We’ve said it all year. Work extremely hard. He sees the ball deep in the area. I feel like at the start of the year, we kind of talked a bit. He was a little nervous, trying to do too, which happens to everyone.

“But he sees the ball very well at the moment. Even his shots, he sees it very well. It’s fun to watch and fun to hit with guys on base too.

Stovall had four singles — including a first-inning single that put his team up 1-0 — a double, three RBIs and tackles twice in a night Arkansas scored 10 runs with two outs.

His five-hit game made him the 16th player in CWS history to record more than five hits in a game and the first since North Carolina’s Dustin Ackley against Southern Miss in 2009.
Stovall’s five hits were the most by a player in Charles Schwab Field history and matched the most ever by a freshman in the CWS.
“I had my struggles throughout the season, but I knew if I had the opportunity in the playoffs, I would do everything I could for the team,” Stovall said.

“I’m just happy and grateful to be here and I’m blessed.”

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, whose team faces Ole Miss Wednesday night at 6 p.m., knew what he was getting at Stovall.

But Van Horn, whose team needs two wins over the Rebels to advance to the championship series, also knew expectations would be a challenge for the youngster.

“He had unrealistic expectations of him because he was a guy who turned down a lot of money,” Van Horn said. “He wasn’t even drafted (after) that he was maybe going to go in the first round. He wanted to go to college.

“And he just felt a lot of pressure. Social media and everything and you read everything and preseason this, preseason that. It’s hard to impose that on children who haven’t even seen a
college arms again.

“…He was really good last month. And like Michael said, even his takes are good. He was in front. He’s not a forward type hitter.

Stovall has been a versatile hitter during this current hot spell.

“He’s pretty balanced,” Van Horn said. “Stay back, and he does now. He starts hitting for power, hitting for average, walking around. And we really got to see the future last month. It was funny,”

Van Horn picked a good time to move Stovall from eighth to second in the order, as he did on Tuesday during his trade with Brady Slavens.

“The game kind of tells you what to do from time to time,” Van Horn said. “I feel like Brady isn’t swinging the bat like he did even last weekend. He struggled yesterday and maybe the second half of the game here.

“And Peyton swung it well, the whole thing, I guess – maybe even towards the end of the season. I was going to say he’s done really well since we finished the regular season, but he did well a bit later.

“But he’s been really good since the playoffs started. So I thought about it last night. I thought I was going to flip those two.

Auburn head coach Butch Thompson was also impressed with Stovall, who sat out the regular-season series with the Tigers due to a finger injury.

“He’s a talent,” Thompson said. “I know what he came out of high school. And sometimes you can get off to a slower start and then be there… Just a stable, good, promising player with a bright future that, it happens.

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