FAYETTEVILLE — When Dave Van Horn turned to Charlie Welch to pinch hit for Cullen Smith Monday night he felt good things could happen, but not sure he could have even imagined how it played out.
Welch came to the plate with the game tied at 2, two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth. A wild pitch by the Nebraska pitcher allowed Christian Franklin to score and give the Hogs a 3-2 lead. On the wild pitch, Robert Moore went to third and Casey Opitz to second. Welch then sent a shot over the fence in left field that was a no-doubter when it left the bat.
“I was looking for a fastball and he went ball one and then he bounced one that got to the backstop and let Franklin score,” Welch said. “I thought since they had thrown 11 balls in a row that Coach Van Horn was going to give me the take sign. So I looked at him and he gave me the green light and I got what I was looking for, a fastball down the middle. So I hit pretty well.”
For Van Horn the issue wasn’t allowing him to hit there. Instead it was whether to start him or not.
“I’ve been kind of just trying to figure out the lineup,” Van Horn said. “You put your hitters in there. I had Charlie in there yesterday. It didn’t go real well. (Brady) Slavens is not hitting right now. Franklin’s not, wasn’t seeing it real good. And that’s the middle of our order. I just told the coaches this morning that I was going to guy with the guys that helped us win some big games as far as the lineup. I brought up the Tennessee game with (Zack) Gregory hitting in the nine hole, he got the big hit at Tennessee.
“Just said ‘I’m going to bring Charlie off the bench.’ I’m going to have a guy off the bench because I felt like Nebraska was going to keep matching up after (Cade) Povich was out of there. Because we knew he would start. We knew last night after the game that Povich was going to start. We figured they were going to let him go until he couldn’t go any more. He did a nice job really. He stuck it to us. But it was hard for me not to put Charlie in there against that left-handed pitching. I just felt like we were going to get a shot later in the game if we keep it close.”
With Kevin Kopps on the mound and a four-run lead heading to ninth inning Welch knew the celebration was close.
“Yeah, anytime Kevin gets to the mound we know as a unit as an offensive group that if we can get a lead that’s a really, really good shot to win that game,” Welch said. “So as soon as he gets to the mound that gives us a boost in the box.”
When you found out you weren’t starting against Nebraska how did you feel?
“I wasn’t upset,” Welch said. “I knew they were throwing a lefty and at some point in the game I’d be needed eventually. Yesterday was the past and we needed a win today.”
In a 5-3 loss to Nebraska on Sunday night, Welch went 0-4 as the designated hitter. Did not starting take some of the pressure off of you?
“I wouldn’t say it took the pressure off but I knew what he was going to attack me with so I was going to hit it hard,” Welch said. “I had already seen him on [Saturday] and knew what he had to offer. So not necessarily. But it was great to have the lead at that point.”
As soon as Welch hit it he knew it was gone. Fans were on their feet immediately. He heard the cheers as he circled the bases.
“I mean you could feel it on your body,” Welch said. “It’s so loud your shaking, your helmet is trembling. I’ve never experienced that. It was surreal.”
Now Welch and the Razorbacks will defend their No. 1 ranking against North Carolina State beginning Friday at 5 p.m. in the Fayetteville Super Regional.
“It’s unbelievable,” Welch said. “I came here my first year and here it is my first Regional and now I make it to Supers so it’s great.”
Welch, a junior, came to Arkansas from St. Johns River State College. In 25 games this season, with 12 starts, he has hit six home runs and has 18 runs batted in.
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