Arkansas Offense Explodes In Eighth

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, the Razorbacks 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 against Oklahoma. The top-seeded Sooners beat fourth-seeded Wichita State 5-4 Friday night

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 fouling 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 inning.

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."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories