Keuchel Eager For Home State Start

FAYETTEVILLE — The voices on the other end of Dallas Keuchel's phone call perked up, getting the Arkansas left-hander even more roused to pitch Friday against Washington State.

Keuchel flipped open his phone mere seconds after learning the Razorbacks would be sent to the Norman (Okla.) Regional, as he expected. The Tulsa native won't just be making an NCAA Tournament start in his home state. The 6-foot-3 junior also will be spending some bonus time with his family.

"I called my parents as soon as I found out, and they were excited," Keuchel said. "They thought it'd be in Norman, too. My sister just got a house down there, so they're all going to stay there for the weekend."

Keuchel vowed not to let the presence of family and friends distract him when the second-seeded Razorbacks (34-22) take on the third-seeded Cougars (31-23). Keuchel said he'd be too worried about trying to "set the tone" for an Arkansas team attempting to reach a Super Regional for the first time since 2004.

He also spoke about returning to the form that helped him open the season with a 7-1 record. Keuchel hasn't won since throwing 8 1/3 solid innings in Arkansas' 11-4 victory over LSU on May 2.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he wasn't overly concerned about his staff ace.

"His ERA has jumped up there a bit the last two outings," Van Horn said. "But he'll be focused in. It's his home state and he is due for a really good outing. ... If it was just a little fatigue thing, that is just the way the game works. There are a lot of ups and downs.

"We are hoping he will have a couple of good outings (in the postseason)."

Granted, Keuchel took a tough loss after tossing seven scoreless innings to start the Hogs' 2-1 defeat on May 8 at Alabama. But the 200-pounder has struggled his last two times out.

Ole Miss blistered Keuchel for nine hits in 6 2/3 innings during the Razorbacks' 7-5 loss on May 14. Keuchel then lasted only 3 2/3 innings against Florida in Arkansas' SEC Tournament opener. The Hogs rallied for an 8-5 victory, but Keuchel wasn't pleased after walking six Gators.

Keuchel said nothing has bothered him physically the past couple of weeks but that he needs to locate his fastball better.

"I haven't been throwing first-pitch strikes," Keuchel said. "I've been having to battle back from 2-0, 2-1, stuff like that. I need to try and get ahead more often and not nibble so much. I can nibble with two strikes a little bit, but I want to pack the zone and make them put it in play."

Washington State surely won't underestimate Keuchel's abilities, despite his recent strains. Cougars coach Donnie Karbut called Keuchel a "good, quality arm" and WSU's Friday starter, Matt Way, can certainly give his teammates an accurate scouting report.

Way and Keuchel played together over the summer for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League. Keuchel said he expected to encounter a bunch of scrappy Cougars intent on battling at the plate.

"I know they can swing the sticks (well). I remember that," said Keuchel, who allowed two runs on four hits and struck out five in Arkansas' season-opening win over the Cougars on Feb. 20. "They don't strike out much. They'll really battle you up there."

The Cougars won't battle as hard as Keuchel, though, senior catcher Ryan Cisterna insisted.

Cisterna has spent every one of Keuchel's starts behind home plate and has enjoyed witnessing the fiery pitcher at work. So home state or not, Keuchel won't let family pressures or recent struggles keep him from leading Arkansas into the winner's bracket, Cisterna said.

"He's been so consistent throughout the whole year," Cisterna said. "Whether his pitches are on for him or not, it doesn't matter. He finds a way to win. He finds a way to get guys out. He's a competitor out there, a warrior.

"He's always going to come back with composure and confidence, and the whole team would do anything for him."



WHEN: Friday-Monday

WHERE: L. Dale Mitchell Park, Norman, Okla., University of Oklahoma campus



WHEN: 1 p.m.

SERIES: Arkansas leads 4-2.

LAST MEETING: Arkansas won 4-2, 7-5 and 4-3 to open the season at home on Feb. 20, 22.

RECORDS: Arkansas Razorbacks, 34-22; Washington State Cougars, 31-23.


WHEN: 7 p.m.

SERIES: Oklahoma leads 13-10.

LAST MEETING: OU won 8-1 at home on April 22 after winning 15-0 at Wichita State on April 8.

RECORDS: Oklahoma Sooners, 41-18; Wichita State Shockers, 30-25

Dallas Keuchel

Class: Junior

Position: Left-Handed Pitcher

Height: 6-3

Weight: 200

Hometown: Tulsa, Okla.

High School: Bishop Kelly High

Notables: Sports the seventh-most wins (7) and ninth-best earned run average (4.14) in the Southeastern Conference this season. ... Earned a spot on the Cape Cod League West All-Star team for his play last summer for the Wareham Gatemen. ... Ranked second on the team in wins (4), starts (11) and strikeouts (61) his sophomore season and finished with a 4-3 mark and 4.58 ERA. ... Named to the SEC all-freshman team after going 6-3 in 24 appearances and striking out 49 in 52 innings. ... Earned co-pitcher of the year honors in Oklahoma his senior season and led Bishop Kelley to a state title, in addition to being named all-5A East quarterback.

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