FAYETTEVILLE - It's beginning to look a lot like last year.
Like last year Arkansas stumbled to the finish line in the regular season and like last year the Razorbacks have looked rejuvenated in the NCAA Regional round. Like last year the Hogs are in the driver's seat, one win away from advancing to an NCAA Super Regional.
The No. 19 Razorbacks held on for a 6-4 win over No. 24 Washington State Saturday night in the winners' bracket of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum Stadium. Arkansas will play tomorrow at 7:05 p.m. against the winner of Sunday's elimination game between Washington State and Kansas State.
It wasn't an easy win; postseason ones rarely are. The Cougars loaded the bases with nobody out against Arkansas reliever DJ Baxendale in the bottom of the eighth inning and scored to pull within 5-4 when Geoffrey Davenport entered the game and walked Derek Jones in four pitches.
But it was Jordan Pratt who saved things for the Razorbacks. Pratt, who had blown a lead against South Carolina three weeks ago and nearly blown a seven-run lead at Vanderbilt a week later, retired three straight batters in the heart of the Cougars' lineup to get out of the jam as the Baum Stadium crowd of 9,016 fans erupted into the loudest of several "Woo Pig Sooie" yells on the night.
"I thought Jordan did a great job," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He came in right after a bases-loaded walk in four pitches. We had a one-run lead and he had to go through their 4-, 5- and 6-hole hitters.
"It was a great game but I'm glad it's over."
"My adrenaline was pumping," said Pratt, who picked up his second save of the year. "There is no better feeling than picking up a teammate. I've been in that situation before and I was glad I could help him out."
The pitching sequence clearly turned the momentum. Collin Kuhn added to the Cougars' misery by hitting a solo home run to lead off the top of the ninth inning.
"That was huge," Van Horn said. "He got his pitch and he hammered it."
Pratt worked around a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth to close out the win. The junior right-hander saved a sparkling performance by Razorback sophomore Drew Smyly, who went seven innings on the mound, giving up three runs on three hits.
The performance was a close second to Smyly's regional performance last year when he retired the first 25 batters before giving up a hit against Oklahoma.
"He's plenty good," Washington State coach Donnie Marbut said. "He did a good job of locating his fastball and threw enough breaking balls to keep us honest. He had us one-hit through about five innings."
Smyly was backed up by a makeshift defense that atoned for its lone error when Kuhn overran a ball in the outfield, but hit his relay man Bo Bigham, who threw Jones out at the plate to end the first inning.
Zack Cox didn't play at third base with a nagging back injury, though he did hit. Andy Wilkins moved from his spot at first base to fill for Cox and Monk Kreder started in the spot Wilkins left vacant.
Van Horn had to make another shift midway through the game, swapping Kuhn and Brett Eibner's spots in the outfield after Eibner cramped up running the bases. Matt Vinson, who made a diving catch to record the game's final out, was a defensive replacement late in the game.
"They made all the plays," Van Horn said. "I thought a big play was when the ball got by Collin on the base hit and he made a perfect throw to the relay man, who made another perfect throw and we dodged a bullet right there.
"It's always a concern when you don't have players at their normal positions. With us it's not like we have an injured player and we bring another player in. We start moving guys around so really instead of one guy at a different position we have two or three. It was a good night for us, defensively."
Arkansas (42-18) scored two in the third inning on a pair of RBI hits by Kuhn and Wilkins to take a 2-0 lead and two more unearned runs in the fourth inning on a pair of throwing errors to extend the lead to 4-0.
But the offense stalled after that, allowing Washington State (35-21) to get back into the game. The Cougars, owners of 18 come-from-behind wins this year, started the rally on second baseman Cody Bartlett's two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Bartlett, whose game-winning two-run home run Friday night lifted the Cougars past Kansas State, finished the game 2-for-4 at the plate and made an array of spectacular defensive plays to keep his team close.
"Drew kept getting us back in the dugout," Van Horn said. "The thing was we were getting hits but we weren't driving in runs. That's due to Bartlett, who made some incredible plays. He made about every play you can make and I think he saved them three runs with his glove and drove in two with the home run. We kept thinking we were about to put them away and he'd make a play."
The two teams exchanged a pair of leadoff home runs in the seventh inning - Cox for Arkansas and Weber for Washington State - and the Razorbacks led 5-3 heading to the eighth.
Bartlett chased Baxendale after battling off a series of two-strike pitches before lining a base hit into right field. But Bartlett was left standing at second base as Pratt delivered one of the clutch Razorback pitching performances in recent memory.
"You've got to tip your hat," Marbut said. "He made pitches when we had the guys we wanted up in that position. It didn't happen for us. Good for him."
The win was Arkansas' fifth over Washington State in two years and the second straight in postseason play. The Razorbacks won a 10-3 decision in the Norman Regional last year.
Washington State will meet Kansas State (37-21) in an elimination game Sunday at 2:05 p.m. The Wildcats eliminated Grambling State with a 9-8 win Saturday.