NORMAN, Okla. — Two days before his Razorbacks clinched their first Super Regional berth since 2004, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn sensed a change in his team.
Friday's nine-run eighth inning against Washington State didn't only spur Arkansas' Norman Regional-opening win. The sudden offensive outburst "cleansed" the Razorbacks' season, letting them "start over and take off," Van Horn said.
A deep intensity emerged, percolating from his players, and Van Horn noticed the focus again before Arkansas' 11-0 blowout victory Sunday night over top-seeded Oklahoma.
"Honestly, when we won the (Washington State) game, the team knew we were going to win this tournament," Van Horn said. "Sometimes as a coach, you can just see it in their faces. You had to be in the dugout to know what I was talking about. I saw some intense guys.
"These guys really, really wanted to win."
Their passionate attitude was rewarded.
Arkansas humbled the regional host with a nearly flawless, all-around effort before 2,333 fans — many of them calling the Hogs — at L. Dale Mitchell Park. With three dominating victories this weekend, the second-seeded Razorbacks (37-22) advanced to a Super Regional matchup with Florida State — most likely in Tallahassee, Fla.
For the third straight day, a surprisingly explosive offense fueled the Hogs. All weekend, Arkansas looked nothing like the team that entered regional play last in the Southeastern Conference in batting average, hits, runs scored, total bases and runs batted in.
Beginning with Friday's nine-run eighth, that is.
"I think the offense is really comfortable at the plate right now," said sophomore first baseman Andy Wilkins, the regional's Most Outstanding Player who went 5-for-5 Sunday. "You can see it when everybody steps in the box. There's just that air of confidence going into them.
"Everyone has the mindset now that it doesn't matter what you're throwing, we're going to hit it. Somewhere down the lineup we're going to hurt you."
The Razorbacks exploded for 27 runs on 30 hits in their first two regional games and didn't waste any time getting going Sunday evening, boosted by the tandem of Wilkins and Ben Tschepikow. The pair combined to hit .594 (19-for-32) at the plate in the Norman Regional.
Wilkins blasted a two-out, two-run homer in the first after Tschepikow reached on an error, and Tschepikow crushed a three-run shot in the third.
The Hogs led 6-0 after three innings, putting early pressure on Oklahoma (43-20) coach Sunny Golloway's squad, which struggled all night with Arkansas pitcher Drew Smyly.
"I think we played a team that was getting hot in all phases of the game," Golloway said. "It was very apparent that they're swinging the bat very well right now. That's what it's about. Getting hot at the right time right now."
Arkansas also received a nice bonus Sunday night in the form of Smyly's near no-hitter. The freshman left-hander struck out a career-high 12 batters and didn't allow a hit until Trey Sperring's infield single to shortstop with one out in the ninth.
Not that Smyly needed to be that dominant. His supporting cast kept piling on, as Zack Cox blasted a two-run shot in the seventh and Wilkins drove home two more runs in the eighth.
Afterward, Arkansas' newly-embraced intensity carried over into its post-game celebration. The Razorbacks didn't pile on the mound or throw their gloves into the air. They patted one another on the back and gave each other a few hugs. But no one felt satisfied, no one wanted to savor the past too much.
"We came out here to Norman with the goal of taking care of business," Wilkins said. "Our goal was to get out of here, get to the Super Regional, get two more wins and get to Omaha. Anything less than that, and I think we'd be upset. Our No. 1 goal is to get to Omaha, but we have to take care of Florida State first."
ARKANSAS VS. FLORIDA STATE
WHAT: NCAA Super Regional
WHEN: Friday-Sunday or Saturday-Monday
WHERE: To be determined
ON THE AIR: KFAY-AM 1030; KURM-AM 790, FM 100.3; FM 103.1; KYNG-AM 1590; KHGG-AM 1580
RECORDS: Arkansas Razorkbacks, 37-22; Florida State Seminoles, 45-16
A feisty Chase Leavitt heads away from third after an altercation emptied both benches.
Arkansas starting pitcher Drew Smyly fires to the plate in his gem against Oklahoma.
Smyly gets congratulations from Arkansas second baseman Bo Bigham and Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn.
Arkansas 11, Oklahoma 0
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