Many of Arkansas' coaches and players expected — and outwardly hoped — to be sent to the Norman (Okla.) Regional. The true mystery for them Monday was in learning the identity of their first-round opponent. And when the Razorbacks saw "Washington State" pop up below "Arkansas" on the screens, they seemed intrigued at playing the team they won three games from back in cold February.
"That probably got the most reaction (in the room)," freshman third baseman Zack Cox said. "But they're a different team than they were then. We're a different team. It's a whole different matchup. Anything can happen (this time of year). That's what the older guys keep saying."
The Razorbacks (34-22) opened their season by sweeping the Cougars (31-23) and found out Monday they'd be starting regional play against them. Arkansas earned the second seed in the Norman Regional and will face third-seeded Washington State at 1 p.m. Friday in L. Dale Mitchell Park.
Oklahoma (41-18), which earned the No. 7 national seed in the NCAA Tournament, takes on fourth-seeded Wichita State (30-25) at 7 p.m.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn sounded just as adamant as Cox that the Razorbacks' victories of 4-2, 7-5 and 4-3 in late February meant little. Washington State finished second in the Pacific 10 Conference with a 19-8 league record and will send 6-foot-2 senior Matt Way (8-4, 2.49 ERA) to the mound Friday afternoon.
Way struck out seven Razorbacks in four innings on Feb. 20.
"They are a scrappy team," Van Horn said. "They had a very good year in the Pac-10. I am sure they are a lot better than when they came out here the first time. That was so early."
Washington State coach Donnie Marbut joked that his squad's draw would make life easier the next few days as the Cougars prepared for their first NCAA Tournament since 1990.
"We won't have to work too hard on the scouting report," Marbut said sarcastically, speaking to reporters in Pullman, Wash. "We've played Oklahoma now eight times in two years and obviously we played Arkansas three times this year at the beginning of the year. We at least have a little bit of familiarity with them."
Arkansas wasn't able to secure a regional in Fayetteville after losing its last eight Southeastern Conference regular-season games. But the Razorbacks seemed pleased Monday they wouldn't have to travel too far for postseason play — unlike last season when they flew to the Stanford Regional.
A four-hour bus ride sounded like a decent consolation prize to the Razorbacks, who worked all season to host a regional.
"I think the players are excited about going to Norman. In fact, I know they are," Van Horn said. "Family and friends can get to the game. For our fans here in Arkansas, it is close. It will be fun."
Van Horn also said the Razorbacks' mostly muted reaction Monday was encouraging.
"Nobody was all hooting or hollering," Van Horn said. "We just watched (the selection show). It was pretty quiet. I think they are just ready to go play somebody and get it going."
NCAA NORMAN REGIONAL
ARKANSAS VS. WASHINGTON STATE
WHEN: 1 p.m. Friday.
WHERE: L. Dale Mitchell Park, Norman, Okla.
ON THE AIR: KFAY-AM 1030; KURM-AM 790, FM 100.3; FM 103.1; KYNG-AM 1590; KHGG-AM 1580.
RECORDS: Arkansas Razorbacks, 34-22; Washington State Cougars, 31-23.
SERIES RECORD: Arkansas leads 4-2.
LAST MEETING: Arkansas swept Washington State 4-2, 7-5 and 4-3 on Feb. 20, 22 in Fayetteville.
FRIDAY'S PROBABLE STARTERS: Arkansas, Dallas Keuchel (7-3, 4.14); Washington State, Matt Way (8-4, 2.49).
NCAA Norman Regional Schedule
at L. Dale Mitchell Park, Norman, Okla.
Friday, May 29
Game 1: No. 2 Arkansas (34-22) vs. No. 3 Washington State (31-23), 1 p.m.
Game 2: No. 1 Oklahoma (41-18) vs. No. 4 Wichita State (30-25), 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 30
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 31
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1 p.m.
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 7 p.m.
Monday, June 1
Game 7: If necessary, 7 p.m.