NORMAN, Okla. — No panic existed in Arkansas' third-base dugout inside L. Dale Mitchell Park.
Sure, the Razorbacks trailed Friday afternoon heading into the eighth inning of their NCAA Norman Regional opener against Washington State.
But they saw no reason to gather together before the bottom of the eighth. Even the Razorbacks' seniors figured a formal talk wasn't needed. After all, for most of this season, Arkansas thrived by pulling out victories in late-inning situations.
They may not have imagined a nine-run rally, which fueled their 10-3 victory over the Cougars before 1,636 fans, but they certainly didn't doubt their comeback abilities.
"We didn't say a whole lot (before the eighth)," senior second baseman Ben Tschepikow said. "We've been through a lot of tough games this season. We've had a lot of one-run losses and one-run wins, and this team has always had a positive mentality that we're never out of it.
"We just know we're never out of the game until it's over with."
Undeterred, the second-seeded Razorbacks (35-22) remained confident through seven innings. Even as Washington State left-hander Matt Way humbled them with 10 strikeouts, even as the third-seeded Cougars (31-24) built a 3-1 lead.
And their persistence paid off.
Using their season-high run total for one inning, eclipsing their eight-run sixth against California on March 8, the Hogs advanced to tonight's 7 p.m. winner's bracket contest.
They'll play Oklahoma, a 5-4 winner over Wichita State in Friday's second game.
For so long Friday, Arkansas appeared destined to land in today's loser's bracket game — one loss from elimination. Seemingly in an instant, the Razorbacks altered their future.
"It was like the game changed so fast," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We were struggling. ... But give credit to the players for hanging in there. It was hot, things weren't going our way and we were just trying to keep the game close until something good happened, and it finally did."
Two things kept Arkansas within striking distance of the Cougars, who the Razorbacks swept to open this season. First, there was the sprawling, seventh-inning catch on the right-field warning track by freshman Jarrod McKinney.
WSU already had scored once in the seventh, taking its 3-1 advantage, when Arkansas left-hander Dallas Keuchel faced Greg Lagreid with two outs and the bases loaded. Lagreid crushed a line drive directly over McKinney's head to deep right.
McKinney sprinted back, spun himself around and finally dove to snag the ball.
"It was definitely a game-saving catch," sophomore first baseman Andy Wilkins said. "If he doesn't make that catch, who knows where the inning goes? It changed the whole complexion of the game."
It also was just one of many jams Keuchel found his way out of Friday. The Cougars stranded 11 runners in seven innings against the 6-foot-3 Tulsa native, who admitted he "didn't have (his) best stuff."
As the innings went by, Washington State coach Donnie Marbut could sense his team's failure to drive in runs could prove costly.
"Well, we weren't striking out. We only had one against Dallas in seven innings," Marbut said. "We just didn't string enough hits together. It came back to bite us."
Not until the eighth inning, however, when Arkansas sent 12 batters to the plate.
Tschepikow started the rally with a leadoff double, which caused Marbut to prematurely call on right-handed closer Jeremy Johnson. Wilkins drove Tschepikow in with a one-out single after fighting to foul off several pitches during a nine-pitch at-bat.
After a Bo Bigham single, McKinney's squeeze bunt scored Wilkins and tied the game at 3. Bigham then scored the go-ahead run on WSU's second error of the game, an errant throw to first by shortstop Shea Vucinich that could've ended the frame.
Instead, the Razorbacks tacked on six more runs, getting singles from pinch-hitter Jacob House, Collin Kuhn and Tschepikow before Scott Lyons' three-run home run.
"That's a tough, tough game," Marbut said. "Just tip your hat to Arkansas. We made a big mistake on the field and then they kept piling the runs on."
Early Pitcher's Duel
The two teammates this past summer on the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League followed through with the promise they each made to try and beat their friend.
Washington State senior left-hander Matt Way struck out 10 and left after six innings with a 3-1 lead. Arkansas junior left-hander Dallas Keuchel wasn't as overpowering, but he kept Arkansas in the game by stranding 11 runners in seven innings.
"I thought it was just a great pitcher's duel," Van Horn said.
Cougars coach Donnie Marbut reluctantly pulled Way before the seventh, citing Way's pitch count, as well as his complaints of a "sore forearm."
Van Horn was pleased to see Way come out of the contest.
Van Horn knew from the moment the NCAA regionals were announced that Arkansas would likely struggle against its game 1 starting pitcher.
"When we saw we drew Washington State, we knew we were going to draw Way," Van Horn said. "There's probably not a better left-handed pitcher in the country. He has maybe the best changeup."
Keuchel commented afterward that his velocity "wasn't there." But the Tulsa native showed plenty of fight in his home state, constantly getting outs when he needed them most.
He even fielded his position well, sprinting off the mound for a two-out, fifth-inning bunt and narrowly throwing out Derek Jones at first to save a run.
"I was just trying to stick with it," Keuchel said. "I didn't have my best stuff. I had to rely on my offspeed more than I usually do. I just hung in there."
Welcome Back, Scott
Shortstop Scott Lyons finally returned to Arkansas' starting lineup Friday. Van Horn didn't put Lyons in the field, but he penciled in the 6-foot, 185-pound senior as Arkansas' designated hitter, batting third.
Lyons struggled in his first four at-bats, striking out twice and flying out twice, but smacked his eighth home run this season during the Hogs' nine-run eighth.
"Just to see my name again in the lineup, it almost felt like opening day," Lyons said. "I've been dying to get back in the there. Luckily, I got back in there and produced a little bit. I was rusty a little bit early on, though."
When Lyons hit his eighth-inning homer, he looked for a first-pitch fastball from new WSU pitcher James Wise and got it.
"I had a feeling he'd try to blow a fastball by me," Lyons said. "I was not going to get out twice in that inning. That would've been embarrassing."
Van Horn and Lyons both said they were unsure whether Lyons could return to the field for tonight's contest.
Playing Time Earned
Van Horn had plenty of positive things to say after Friday's victory about freshman right fielder Jarrod McKinney.
Not only did McKinney save three runs with his diving catch with two outs in the seventh inning. He also laid down a perfectly-placed squeeze bunt to tie the game at 3 during Arkansas' eighth-inning explosion.
The decision to start McKinney, who entered Friday's game hitting .196, could be questioned by some. But Van Horn said the Hughes Springs, Texas, native had earned his playing time in recent weeks.
"He did well last weekend (at the SEC Tournament), and I think he deserved to play," Van Horn said. "He can beat you in a lot of ways.
"He's been playing good defense. He's got a great arm. He can throw people out. He can bunt. He's been swinging really well in practice. I just think he kind of earned it."
Freshman center fielder Collin Kuhn suffered an embarrassing moment in the seventh that cost Arkansas a run.
He simply dropped Jared Prince's fly ball with no outs in the seventh, letting Greg Lagreid score to put the Cougars up 3-1. Kuhn was so intent on trying to throw out a tagged-up Lagreid at the plate that he momentarily took his eyes off the ball.
Kuhn bounced back in the eighth when he gave Arkansas a 5-3 lead he bunted for a hit with two outs.
Junior right-hander Mike Bolsinger was flawless in relief. He struck out one during two perfect innings to close out Friday's victory. Bolsinger improved to 5-4 this season. ... Way struck out McKinney in the fourth for his eighth strikeout of the game and his 122nd of the season. That broke the Washington State single-season record for strikeouts, set by Aaron Sele in 1990. ... Sophomore first baseman Andy Wilkins entered Friday's game with only three hits in his previous 21 at-bats. Wilkins went 3-for-5 with two RBI against the Cougars. ... Sophomore Jacob House pinch hit in the eighth and dropped in a bloop single to left-center field, his first hit since May 3.
Dallas Keuchel fires one to the plate.
Arkansas third baseman Zach Cox makes a play during Friday's win.
Arkansas 10, Washington St. 3
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