It's been a baseball season where most of the decisions made by University of Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn have worked out quite nicely.
It was no different on Friday as NCAA Super Regional play got underway. The Razorbacks suddenly find themselves just one win away from the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Van Horn chose to put struggling shortstop Scott Hode back in his normal clean-up spot and he responded with four of his team's 17 hits in a 7-5 win over Florida State University Friday afternoon before a school-record crowd of 9,338 fans at Baum Stadium.
"I thought this was a good college game," Van Horn said. "We would get a run and they would counter. Then they would get a run and we would counter. We finally put a big inning together (a three-run fifth) and held them. That's the way it has been all season for us."
Van Horn also chose to leave in reliever and winning pitcher Boyd Goodner during a two-out, bases-loaded situation in the sixth.
He called a fastball that got Goodner out of it with a one-run lead and then turned things over two pitches into the seventh to Jay Sawatski and watched him bring the win home.
"I felt pretty good out there today," said Sawatski, who pitched scoreless ball for the final three innings to pick up the save. "This was the first time in about a month that I really felt good. I had pretty good pop on my fastball and I was locating my curve ball really well.
Arkansas (44-22), which was in this same spot two years ago before losing the final two games of its season to host Clemson, can take the final step on the Road to Omaha with one more win.
The Razorbacks can clinch a berth in the CWS with a win over FSU (45-22) in either Saturday night's 7 p.m. game or an if necessary game Sunday at either 2 p.m. or 5 p.m.
"We have to treat it like we lost the game," said Arkansas center fielder Casey Rowlett, who homered in the contest. "We don't even want to think about Omaha right now. We have to make a statement that we haven't done anything yet."
FSU head coach Mike Martin, whose team had 14 of the game's whopping 31 hits, was impressed with the crowd and both team's efforts.
"What a great atmosphere for college baseball and those two teams really went at each other today," Martin said. "I can't say enough about the effort of both teams. I'm sure it will be the same way tomorrow."
Coming into the contest, Hode was 2-for-38 in his 8 postseason games and had been dropped to No. 8 spot in the lineup in the Razorbacks' last game with Wichita State.
Some had questioned whether Van Horn should even have him in the lineup, but the coach said he had a good feeling about Hode.
"He had been working hard all week and I know Scott Hode and what he could do for us," Van Horn said. "I wanted to do that because he had been doing a good job with all the drills and everything we asked of him and I wanted to give him the chance."
For his part, Hode said he did some reading on his favorite player - New York Yankees shortsop Derek Jeter and how he got out of a mighty slump earlier in the major league season.
"I tried to forget about how I had been struggling and I read an article about Derek Jeter, who is my favorite player," Hode said. "He had really been struggling and I read everything he did . I just tried to look at every at-bat (in practice) this week as a game situation and said I am going to dig in and I am going to do it. That really drove me through it."
Arkansas started Clint Brannon and Florida State opened with Rhett James, but neither made it through the fifth inning.
Brannon gave up 5 runs (4 earned) on 10 hits while James gave up 6 runs (three earned) on 10 hits.
"It seems like both pitchers really struggled," Van Horn said. "When you are in the first game of a Super Regional and your pitcher doesn't go five innings usually it is pretty tough, but it happened both ways."
Rowlett started a relay that gunned down a runner in the top of the first and then gave his team a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the inning with his third home run of the season.
Shane Richardson's RBI in the second tied it, but Hode's RBI single sent Arkansas back ahead 2-1 in the third.
FSU took a 3-2 advantage in the fourth, but Brady Toops' homer tied it right back up.
FSU jumped ahead again 5-3 with a pair of runs in the fifth, but Van Horn took a gamble on Danny Hamblin's two-out double and it opened the gate for a trio of runs.
Van Horn sent Hode, who should have been thrown out, but was safe when the catcher misplayed the ball.
"We have done that all year with two outs," Van Horn said. "We want to make you make a play and a lot of times that is exactly what happens - they don't. We want to put the pressure on you with two outs. We would not have done it with one out or no outs, but with two we do and it paid off for us."
Devin Day and Scott Bridges would add run-scoring hits to put Arkansas up 6-5 later in the inning.
The Razorbacks then added an insurance run in the eighth when Clay Goodwin doubled over the first base bag for the last of his three hits and Hamblin, named a freshman All-American earlier in the day, sent him scurrying home with a single.
Sawatski then finished the job by pitching around a two-out single by Robinson when he fanned pinch-hitter Daniel Wardell to end it.
Martin thinks his team will be ready on Saturday.
"It's a big obstacle, but I think these young men will play tomorrow just like they did today," said Martin, who could have been talking about both teams. "They will give you everything they have and play with all the heart you have seen."
Hode Comes Alive as UA Beats FSU
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