Striking similarities

Brady Toops finally got to take in a College World Series from the stands Wednesday night. The former Arkansas catcher - known best for his grand slam to keep the Razorbacks alive in the 2004 Fayetteville Regional - witnessed the next great chapter in the Diamond Hogs' history.

Though they never played together, Brady Toops and Brett Eibner will forever be linked in Arkansas lore by a pair of postseason home runs.

You might remember Toops hitting a grand slam to give Arkansas the go-ahead lead against Wichita State in the 2004 Fayetteville Regional, and you certainly can't forget Eibner's two-run home run Wednesday against Virginia that kept the Hogs alive in the College World Series.

"That was something else. I show up and it was the first time I got to see the College World Series as a fan and we're down 3-1," Toops said of Eibner's blast. "I'm remembering back to '04 and how hopeless that situation seemed. We were down 9-7 with two outs when I came to the plate. Obviously the game of baseball isn't over until the last out is in the books, and that last out is the hardest one to get.

"When Zack Cox lined that (ninth inning) single up the middle and Eibner came up everyone was thinking, ‘This guy has some pop.' When that ball went out I stood up and yelled with my arms raised for the longest time.

"Eibner walked by me after the game and said, ‘Hey man, I'm just trying to be like you.' So that was awesome."

There are several similarities between the two blasts; both came with two out in the ninth inning of an elimination game and both gave the team hope when hope was all-but lost. Arkansas' 4-3 win over the Cavaliers sets up a rematch with LSU Friday in another must-win game.

So whose home run was bigger?

"I've been thinking about last and all day today," Toops said. "I don't know if it's even fair to compare the two home runs.

"The '04 grand slam was really something where the baseball program was at a crossroads. We came out of nowhere and ended up winning the SEC, then the regional and all of a sudden all the state was energized and behind the program. We had new popularity, averaged more fans than we'd ever had and when I hit that grand slam it really helped propel the program to a level of popularity it hadn't seen. It paved the way for us to make it to the College World Series for the first time under Coach Van Horn. So any team that comes after that '04 team already has a head start because its able to build off what we created.

"The thing that I love and would obviously be stoked about is for any team to go further than we did. Eibner's home run was obviously on a bigger platform being in the College World Series. I don't know if they're comparable, but each has its place in history and sets the stage for the next great Razorback moment."

That next great moment could come Friday against the Tigers. LSU beat Arkansas 9-1 Monday night to send Arkansas into the loser's bracket and the Hogs must win twice to advance to next week's national championship series.

Rest and pitching are the two biggest question marks heading into the game. Arkansas is playing its fourth game in seven days while the Tigers are coming off four days of rest. Razorback ace Dallas Keuchel pitched four innings of scoreless relief to earn the win Wednesday night and Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said the team will staff the game Friday with either junior closer Stephen Richards or freshman pitcher/infielder Zack Cox getting the starting nod.

"When you look at Keuchel last night and the gutsy performance he gave out there, I think this team, if there is any momentum to be had in this tournament, has it right now," Toops said. "Obviously at this point when you're playing so many games, pitching is always a question.

"But after Eibner hit that home run last night, I don't think anyone is going to hold them back and tell them they can't do something. I'm not worried about the pitching. They'll have guys that are going to step up because there isn't an option. When you get to this point you just go play."

Looking back to '04, Toops said pitching was a question that had to be answered on the field.

"We didn't know who we were going to pitch against Wichita State," he said. "We threw a couple of freshmen here and there and they came up with great games. Anybody can come out and step up for the program and I'm really expecting it to happen.

"This team has that magic. Anything can happen."

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