Arkansas Reliever Earns Hero Status

HOOVER, Ala. -- Arkansas relief pitcher Travis Hill picked a fine time to become a bona fide hero.

Hill, a 6-foot-1, 181-pound junior college transfer, saved the Razorbacks' bacon Saturday afternoon.

His heroic pitching performance sealed a nail-biting 3-2 win against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Regions Park.

"This officially is the biggest game I've ever pitched in," Hill said. "My mind-set was make good pitches."

Hill made enough of them to polish off the final two innings and put Arkansas in the championship game today.

Things looked shaky in the eighth when he loaded the bases with no outs. South Carolina started the inning with a pair of infield hits and a walk.

Hill, buoyed by some good defense by second baseman Ben Tschepikow, yielded only one run in that inning. In the ninth, he sat the Gamecocks down in order to end the game.

"All you had to do is throw good pitches because they were going to play defense behind me," Hill said. "I faced the toughest part of their lineup to start off with. One mistake to one of those guys and it could have been over.

"Luckily, I got the job done."

No one was more happy than Razorbacks catcher Brian Walker. "Him and I are very close," Walker said. "He's struggled at times this year. He has a lot of genuine passion for the game. He hurts when he doesn't help the team. Watching him today, bases loaded in he eighth, he works out of it, and in the ninth he closes it.

"That's just great."

The final line on Hill was 2 innings pitched, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk and 2 strikeouts. He threw 31 pitches.

"He made a couple of pitches when he needed to," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "He made the pitches when he need to in the toughest part of the game."

More than anything, Hill said he was happy he could get the save for his old Seminole (Okla.) State College roommate, Duke Welker, who pitched valiantly before leaving with a blister on his throwing hand.

"That makes it even better," Hill said. "That is the greatest thing about getting the save. Duke deserved to win that game today. "He pitched a great game."

Coon On Target

Hidden in all the clutter of statistics was the defensive effort of the Arkansas outfield, mainly at the corners.

Left fielder Casey Coon hit the wall while making a catch on the dead run in the third inning. In the fifth, right fielder Wayne Hrozek made a sliding catch to save a possible double.

Also in the third, with Arkansas leading 3-1, Coon threw out Gamecocks first baseman Justin Smoak at the plate for the third out.

"Once I saw him running, I was trying to throw it to my cut (cut-off man), but luckily it was on target to the plate," Coon said. "Brian Walker did a great job of disguising it, the ball coming in, like he's done all year for us.

"Guy made the slide and we were fortunate enough to get the out and get out of the inning."

Walker decoyed enough to set up the opportunity to nail Smoak. "Casey made a great throw," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He didn't know if the guy was going to run. He took a little bit longer to get rid of it, load up or whatever.

"Brian stood there tall-like. I thought Brian made a tremendous play. I thought his old days playing third base in high school came in handy because he picked that ball up out of the dirt real nice and applied the tag.

"That was big."

Hogs Hogging Championship Game Spots

For the first time since the Southeastern Conference went to 12 teams in 1992, there's one school who can brag about making the tournament championship in football, basketball and baseball during the same calendar year.

That school? Arkansas.

After playing in both the SEC football and basketball championships, the Razorbacks have now added a third trip to the finals by advancing to today's baseball title game.

While several schools have played in two of the three championships in the same calendar year, no team had ever played in all three.

Until now.

"We've got an outstanding athletic program and we've got great support," Van Horn said. "We try to play for the University all of the time and try to win championships in regular season play. In tournament play, it's a little tougher and as you see teams getting eliminated one by one, it's exciting."

Regional Announcement Coming

While Arkansas is now almost guaranteed of hosting at least an NCAA Regional, the Razorbacks will find out for sure today. At 2:15 p.m., the 16 regional host sites for the NCAA Division I baseball tournament will be aired on ESPN.

Only the 16 sites will be announced today. At 11:30 a.m. Monday, the full bracket will be released on ESPN. Then, the Razorbacks will find out if their recent run at the SEC Tournament will be good enough to earn the team one of the nation's top eight seeds, which will guarantee Arkansas a super regional if it advanced past the regionals.

"Definitely we should get a regional," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "Hopefully we'll be a high enough seed and be able to have a chance to stay at home (for the super regional).

"But whatever we need to do, we'll do."

This and That

Arkansas' three starting pitchers in the SEC Tournament have combined to allow just one earned run in 24 innings of work. That comes out to an amazing 0.38 earned run average... The Razorbacks stole three bases Saturday and now lead the tournament with eight steals in three games... The Diamond Hogs will be playing in their third SEC Tournament championship since joining the conference in 1992. Arkansas also played in the 1998 and 1999 finals, but lost both times.

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