OMAHA, Neb. — More than 23,000 fans packed into Rosenblatt Stadium to see Arkansas and Cal State Fullerton open the College World Series, enough people to freak out even the most mentally strong CWS newcomer.
One team handled Saturday's crazed environment; one did not. And to the delight of the many Hog callers in the stadium, it was the No. 8 Razorbacks who appeared right at home during their 10-6 victory.
Arkansas earned its first CWS victory since 1989 and gave coach Dave Van Horn his first CWS win by "staying focused on what's between the white lines," sophomore Andy Wilkins said. Van Horn concurred wholeheartedly after watching his Razorbacks (40-22) clutch-hit their way to their sixth straight victory.
"They seemed really comfortable to me," Van Horn said. "They didn't seem nervous. They played like they had been here before, which obviously they hadn't. They picked up right where they left off the last couple weekends."
The Razorbacks upset Oklahoma and Florida State on the road because of timely hitting, and they used the same formula to topple No. 3 Cal State Fullerton (47-15). Earlier in the week, Arkansas hitting coach Todd Butler pointed out that the Razorbacks had tallied "about a third" of their runs this season with two outs.
That percentage skyrocketed Saturday afternoon. Every Arkansas starter recorded at least one hit as the Hogs scored nine of their 10 runs with two outs. Arkansas posted its first run on Wilkins' one-out sacrifice fly in the first. All of the Razorbacks' runs to follow came with two outs, their batters producing in pressure situations with ease.
Zack Cox slapped an RBI single in the first for a 2-0 lead. Cox blasted a two-run home run in the third. Scott Lyons greeted Fullerton reliever Tyler Pill's first pitch for a two-run single in the fourth. Wilkins followed by smacking Pill's third pitch into the right-field seats for a three-run homer and a 9-2 Arkansas lead.
Wilkins, who combined with Cox for eight RBIs, capped the 13-hit outburst with an RBI single in the eighth. Van Horn couldn't pinpoint the exact reasons for Arkansas' two-out hitting. The Hogs were 6-for-14 with two outs, Fullerton was 1-for-8, and Arkansas has now scored 30 of its 64 NCAA Tournament runs with two outs.
"Any team that's playing well is driving in runs with two outs," Van Horn said. "That's when the runners are in scoring position. It's just winning baseball. It's timing. It's confidence. I don't really know how to explain it. When it's going, it's going — and it's going."
A possible explanation rests with Arkansas' almost-eerie comfort level at Rosenblatt Stadium — throughout the entire postseason, for that matter.
Meanwhile, Fullerton's starting pitcher, freshman right-hander Noe Ramirez, appeared the way a majority of first-time CWS players look. He was visibly anxious, the atmosphere and crowd causing a mechanical flaw, and didn't even pitch into the fifth inning.
"He was nervous, like most guys are the first time they come to Omaha," Serrano said.
None of the Razorbacks had competed in Rosenblatt Stadium, either. But that reality didn't keep them from advancing to a winner's bracket contest Monday night against LSU, a 9-5 winner over Virginia.
Wilkins raved about the Razorbacks' fans, who made Saturday's contest "feel like a home game." Cox said Arkansas' experience with playing in front of sizable Baum Stadium crowds helped "ease them into" dealing with the 23,549 fans who saw the Hogs humble the Titans.
Other players credited a carefree, yet focused attitude.
"We just told ourselves to relax and have fun," Keuchel said. "It's all about having fun now. I thought, personally, that I'd be out there with jitters with almost 25,000 people in the stands. But it felt like a regular game for me."
Razorbacks relaxed in routing Titans
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