OMAHA, Neb. – A year ago at this time, Houghton (La.) prep baseball star Peyton Stovall was contemplating what his future was going to be like the following summer.
Would Major League Baseball teams meet his asking price and take him in the first round of July’s draft and thus get his professional career underway right away?
Or would he make his way to Fayetteville and play for one of college baseball’s elite programs with the idea of ending up playing in the College World Series?
Razorback fans are no doubt happy he ended up doing the latter.
Stovall continued his hot hitting at the College World Series Tuesday night by going 5 of 6 with three RBIs in Arkansas 11-1 elimination game win over Auburn.
Stovall is now 9 of 16 in three games in Omaha with a team- and CWS-leading 10 RBIs and has raised his season average from .253 to over .300 during the post season.
“I am 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 going out there and relaxing and having fun.”
Arkansas catcher Michael Turner, who had three of his team’s 16 hits in the win, knew Stovall was on the precipice of breaking out.
“He’s a stud,” Turner said. “We’ve been saying it all year. Works extremely hard. He’s seeing the ball deep in the zone. I feel earlier in the year, we kind of talked a little bit. He was a bit jumpy, trying to do too, much which happens to everybody.
“But he’s seeing the ball real well right now. Even his takes he’s seeing it real well. It’s fun to watch and fun to hit with guys on base, too.”
Stovall had four singles – including a first-inning one that put his team up 1-0 – a double, three RBIs and plated twice on a night when Arkansas scored 10 two-out runs.
His five-hit game made him the 16th player in CWS history to record five-plus hits in a game and the first since North Carolina’s Dustin Ackley vs. Southern Miss in 2009.
Stovall’s five hits were the most by a player in the history of Charles Schwab Field and match the most ever by a freshman in the CWS.
“I had my struggles for sure throughout the whole entire season, but I knew that if I had my opportunity in the postseason that I would just do whatever I could for the team,” Stovall said.
“I am just glad and thankful to be here and I’m blessed.”
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, whose team takes on Ole Miss Wednesday night at 6 p.m, knew what he was getting in Stovall.
But Van Horn, whose team needs two wins over the Rebels to make the championship series, also knew the expectations would be a challenge for the young man.
“He had unrealistic expectations on him because he was a guy that turned down a lot of money,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t even get drafted (after) he was going to going in the first round possibly. He wanted to go to college.
“And he just felt a lot of pressure. Social media and everything else and you read everything and preseason this, preseason that. It’s hard putting that on kids that haven’t even seen a
college arm yet.
“… He’s been really good the last month. And like Michael said, even his takes are good. He was out front. He’s not an out-front type hitter.”
Stovall has been a versatile hitter during this current hot stretch.
“He’s pretty balanced,” Van Horn said. “ Stays back, and he’s doing it now. He’s starting to hit for power, hit for average, taking his walks. And we’ve really been able to see the future the last month. It’s been fun,”
Van Horn picked a great time to elevate Stovall from eighth to second in the order as he did Tuesday when switching him and Brady Slavens.
“The game kind of tells you what to do every now and then,” Van Horn said. “ I feel like Brady is not swinging the bat like he was even last weekend. He struggled yesterday and maybe the second half of the game here.
“And Peyton has been swinging it great, the whole, I guess– maybe even towards the end of the season. I was going to say he’s swinging it great ever since we finished regular season, but he swung it well down the stretch a little bit.
“But he’s been really good since postseason started. So just thought about it last night. Thought I’m going to flip those two.”
Auburn head coach Butch Thompson was also impressed by Stovall, who did not play during the regular season series with Tigers due to an injured finger.
“He’s a talent,” Thompson said. “I know what he was coming out of high school. And sometimes you can get a slower start and then be there…Just a steady, good, promising player with a bright future that, he’s coming on.”