"OmaHogs" Eliminate Seminoles

Arkansas punched its ticket to Omaha for the College World Series with its second straight victory over Florida State, this time, 4-2. The Hogs defeated the Seminoles, 7-5, Friday night and followed with a victory on Saturday. They'll meet top-ranked Texas on Friday in Omaha.

Jake Dugger jump started the offense and Jay Sawatski finished off a clutch pitching performance as Arkansas defeated Florida State, 4-2, to complete a two-game sweep of the Super Regional. It earned the No. 8-seeded Hogs their fifth trip to the College World Series.

"This is a great feeling," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of the team that was picked to finish at the bottom of the SEC in preseason.

"You hear about this happening to other teams, but don't ever expect it to happen to you. This team just comes to work every day and puts in the effort in practice. They find a way to get it done. We've been in a lot of close games and some that we were just a pitch away from winning. We've won a lot of them, too."

For the second straight day, Baum Stadium was packed with a record crowd. After 9,338 watched Friday, 10,027 were in attendance Saturday night. There were another 500 who watched for free from near the road in left field. That's an on-campus record for an NCAA Super Regional. The previous on-campus record was set at LSU when 7,767 watched the Tigers play UCLA in 2000.

That was impressive to FSU coach Mike Martin, as was the play of the Razorbacks.

"What a great environment," Martin said. "It doesn't get any better. I want to thank the people of Arkansas for the way they hosted this regional and treated our team. They were a great host. A tip of the cap from me to the people of Arkansas. The umpires were great, too. I told them that. We got beat. We are Florida State and we don't make excuses.

"Arkansas is solid. They make you earn everything. Give them credit. They won this ball game."

A week after hearing criticism from Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson, it was a nice switch to hear praise from the opposition brain trust. Van Horn said he's always been a fan and admirer of FSU's Martin. He said he always studied Martin's FSU teams and the way he coached when he was a young coach learning his trade. He knew that was the way he wanted to do things, with supreme class.

"I'd go to Omaha as a young coach and watch his Florida State teams," Van Horn said late Saturday night. "I've admired him and his teams. After things were over tonight, I got Coach Martin over to the side and told him that I was always a fan of his teams. He coaches with class and his teams are always very good. I wanted him to know that I have a lot of respect for him.

"What you told me he said in the post-game press conference does not surprise me. That's the way Coach Martin handles himself. He carries himself that way and so do his teams."

The Hogs (45-22) will be making their fifth trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The other trips were in 1979, 1985 and 1987 and 1989. Florida State ended its season with a 45-23. It's been 19 years since the Seminoles lost as many as 23 games.

The Hogs, the visiting team in their own park, got on the scoreboard when Jake Dugger cracked a leadoff homer to the opposite field in left.

Florida State answered with a run in the second to tie it. Scott Bridges came up empty on a head-long dive at the line which Aaron Chessman legged into a triple. Matt Sauls plated Chessman with a sharp single up the middle.

The Hogs got to Seminoles' starter Eddie Cannon, another off-speed specialist much like their opening night starter, for three runs in the top of the third. Devin Day opened the inning with a liner off the wall in left. Bridges hit a fly deep into the gap that went off the center fielder's glove for a three-base error. Day, who had moved to third on a wild pickoff throw, scored easily. Dugger drove home Bridges with a line single to left. Dugger moved to third on a pair of ground outs and scored on Scott Hode's single.

UA starter Charley Boyce hit batters in the third and fourth, but the Seminoles didn't really threaten. Three popups ended the third. Day and Hode turned a double play to erase the runner in the fourth.

The Seminoles had two runners on with one out in the fifth, but came up empty. After a pair of singles, Boyce got out of trouble with a checked-swing strikeout and a fly-out to left. The final out was almost too entertaining for the Hogs. Dugger broke to the warning track on Stephen Drew's deep liner, then had to dive forward to make the catch for the final out.

Boyce left with two outs in the sixth after giving up back-to-back singles. UA relief lefty Trey Holloway was greeted with a single to right by Gibbs Chapman. Bridges gunned a one-hop strike to catcher Brady Toops to nail Chessman by plenty. Toops held the ball through a collision despite his snow-cone catch.

Shane Robinson reached to lead off the seventh when Haas Pratt threw away his checked-swing grounder. Pratt threw behind Holloway, covering first, and the throw went into the UA dugout for a two-base error. Robinson moved to third on a ground-out to Hode. Drew's fly to medium center ended that threat.

The Seminoles chased Holloway with a pair of singles around a fielder's choice grounder. Jay Sawatski entered with runners at first and second with two outs. Matt Sauls popped to center on his first pitch for the second out. He struckout Chapman on four pitches to end that threat.

The Hogs threatened in the ninth and chased Cannon. Haas Pratt's leadoff single was only the second off of Cannon in five innings. Bubbs Merrill bunted pinch-runner Stephen Robinson to second. Toops popped to left and Day bounced out to second to end the inning.

Shane Robinson legged a leadoff double in the ninth. His grounder up the middle caught the Hogs napping a bit and Casey Rowlett's throw from center was cutoff. Clay Goodwin handled pinch-hitter Brent Peacher's grounder to third for the first out. Bryan Zech's grounder to third went off Brett Hagedorn's glove for an error to put runners at the corners. Drew, hitting .344 with 17 homers (and 1-for-9 on the series), plated Robinson on a sacrifice fly to left. Eddy Martinez-Esteve, batting .387 with 19 HRs, went down swinging on a full count to end it. Sawatski came back to get Martinez-Esteve after missing high with the first three pitches.

Van Horn said the Hog coaching staff decided to turn Sawatski loose with three straight fastballs against the FSU cleanup man to end the game.

"I figured they would turn him loose on three-and-oh," Van Horn said. "So I knew we needed to turn Jay loose with his best pitch, his fastball. And, at 3-1, I knew it was going to be another fastball. At 3-2, you go with your best pitch. Jay has been really good with that lately."

Sawatski said he was trying to be too careful at the start of that at bat.

"You don't want to give him anything because he can take you out," Sawatski said. "But after I missed with the first three, it was just time to go after him and bring it hard. I did know when it was three-and-oh that he might be swinging so I didn't throw a four-seamer. It was my two-seamer.

"The at bat before, it was Drew. We've been getting him out. We were making good pitches. Against him, everything I threw was away, breaking stuff and fast ball. He's a great player, but we handled him this weekend."

Van Horn said the Hogs were lucky against Drew.

"He was on some pitches and just missed," Van Horn said. "That's what I'll say about that. And, he hit some hard right at our guys. Our outfielders did a great job in both games of running some shots down. We ran down a lot of stuff tonight. I'd say Drew had one of those 'just missed' weekends. What a great swing. What a great compact, quick bat. He's a great one and we got by against him and I'm thankful."

Van Horn thought the game would have more fireworks after the Hogs broke to a 4-1 lead.

"The play at the plate where Toops held the ball on a short hop was big," Van Horn said. "That might have got them going had they scored there. Still, I didn't think four runs would be enough tonight. I figured the way the teams were swinging the bats, six or seven would be needed. But the pitchers settled in. Cannon really had a nice game for them, but they didn't make all the plays behind him tonight. That helped us."

Van Horn was shaking his head about the Hogs going to Omaha in just his second season.

"I thought it would take three or four years to get back there, but we did it in two," he said. "I think when I first talked into the microphone in January about this team I said not to expect a lot early, but we'd improve as we went along. That's the way it went. I thought we would get better and we did. We could see ourselves getting better.

"We do a good job of playing the game right. We hit our relay men. We run through the base hard. We run out every fly ball. Sometimes they drop them, like they did tonight."

After leaving a successful program at Arkansas to return to his alma mater, Van Horn said it will be sweet to return to Omaha next week.

"It was hard to leave up there," he said. "But I said when I left here after four years as a graduate assistant to take a junior college job, I'd love to come back some day. Believe me it was tough to leave there. They treated me great. They built a great park. It was extremely tough."

What kind of a reception does he expect?

"I don't know for sure, but I think the people there understood this was where I played, where I graduated and where I was married," he said. "This is where I always wanted to coach. So many great things happened here. I think they understood. I got a lot of cards wishing me well from people there when I left. I think they will be good."

Van Horn smiled when the matchup with Texas was mentioned.

"That figures," Van Horn said. "I'm familiar with their team (from his days at Nebraska in the Big 12). I watched them play on (TV) last night. I tried to recruit a lot of their players, at Nebraska and then to here the last two years. They have great talent, a great bench."

It's nice to have backing within the SEC. Dave Jorn, the UA pitching coach, spent three hours on the phone with the Florida coaches in preparation of playing Florida State.

"Florida played FSU three times and knows their players," Jorn said. "They had us well prepared. We knew their hitters. The scouting report we had was on target.

"College baseball is mostly breaking balls. We are a fast ball team. We were told that they like off-speed stuff. So we gave them a steady diet of fast balls -- in and out, nothing ever the same. We got their good ones, Drew and Martinez-Esteve with fast balls. Drew is a special player. We changed the pattern every at bat, never the same. We busted him in one at bat, and then went away the next. He never got on us. He's got a quick, great swing, but we had a good weekend against him.

"I know the Florida coaches well. I knew we could count on them for help. They had a pretty good book on them. They had played them three times this year and a lot in the past. What they told us was dead on.

"For example, the last at bat against their four hole hitter, we knew not to throw him off speed. He's got a slow swing, big, slow arms. We knew he liked to hit the hangers. We didn't want to take a chance on hanging a breaking pitch. So, we went with fastballs. Jay Sawatski's arm was live tonight. Usually, when he pitches two days straight, he hangs some off speed stuff sometimes. But he had plenty of getty-up on his fast ball and he was bringing it tonight. We just came with hard stuff with him at the end. He likes that anyway and he can bring it."

Texas is a lot like FSU in that they throw a lot of off speed stuff, but they have more hitting than FSU.

"Texas is really good," Jorn said. "I know that. But, who knows. Our guys won't be scared of them. I tell them if they are scared of the other team, go to the other dugout and join their team. If not, come into our dugout and let's go get 'em. I believe our guys will be ready to play."

Clay Goodwin scoops and prepares to fire to second for a force out.

Brady Toops handled the UA pitchers in flawless fashion.

Photos by Tom Ewart

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