FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas is one step closer to Omaha.
The Razorbacks beat Washington State 7-2 Monday night to clinch the NCAA Fayetteville Regional title and advance to meet Arizona State in the Tempe Super Regional beginning Saturday at 8 p.m.
Brett Eibner, Andy Wilkins and James McCann all had RBIs in a three-run first inning as Arkansas built a 3-0 lead it would never relinquish.
That was all senior right-hander TJ Forrest would need as he turned in a dazzling performance. Just three days removed from throwing 80 pitches in a start against Grambling State, Forrest went 5 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and striking out four batters. He left to a standing ovation from the Baum Stadium crowd in his final home appearance.
"It all started with TJ on the mound," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He throws strikes, he mixes it up. They hit a couple balls hard but we made some nice plays and turned some double plays. We got off to a good start, got the lead and it was our night.
"Tonight's game was all about the team. I was telling them after the game how proud of them I was. I had two or three guys come up to me saying I can play or I can pitch. I had a really good feeling coming into tonight that we were going to win."
The Razorbacks (43-19) loaded the bases with one out and chased Washington State starter Paris Shewey. Tim Carver followed with a single off reliever Seth Harvey to score Monk Kreder, though McCann was thrown out at the plate. Collin Kuhn then added a two-out, two-run double to push the Arkansas lead to 6-1.
Kuhn finished the tournament 7-for-17 at the plate with four home runs, seven RBIs and eight runs scored. For his efforts he was named the regional's most outstanding player.
"I wouldn't trade Collin for any other leadoff hitter in the nation," McCann said. "Power, contact, he does it all. He steals bases. He's an all-around gamer. When he goes the whole offense goes and that was very evident this weekend."
Forrest and Razorback sophomore Drew Smyly were named to the All-Tournament Team. After pitching seven innings in a win against the Cougars on Saturday, Smyly went 2 2/3 innings out of the bullpen Monday night, allowing no runs on two hits.
Eibner pitched the final inning to close out the win after missing Sunday's game with a hamstring injury.
"Eibner told me he wanted to pitch. (Zack) Cox told me he wanted to play in the field. Smyly told me he wanted to pitch," Van Horn said. "It was great to be a coach today when they came and told me that."
Washington State looked as if it would put together a rally in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Cougars put a pair of base-runners on with nobody out in the inning thanks to three Arkansas errors. Michael Weber's RBI single scored Cody Bartlett to pull within 6-2 but Brett Jacobs hit into a double play to kill the threat.
Washington State (37-22) hit into double plays in each the second, third and fourth innings.
"We lost to a better team," said Washington State coach Donnie Marbut, whose team has now lost six of seven games to Arkansas in the last two years. "That's hard to say sometimes but it's true."
Zack Cox started the game at third base for the Razorbacks and went 2-for-3 at the plate before leaving midway through the third inning with a recurring rib injury that forced him to be a designated hitter Saturday and Sunday.
He was replaced in the lineup by freshman Derrick Bleeker who atoned for an error in the third inning with a two-out solo home run in the seventh to give Arkansas a 7-2 lead. Freshman Matt Vinson added a spectacular diving catch in right field in the bottom half of the inning to rob Jacobs of an extra-base hit.
"I just wanted to put the best defense out there that we could," Van Horn said. "The catch down the right field line was one of the best I've seen. I didn't think he had a chance."
With the win Arkansas advances to the Super Regional round for the third time in the last seven years under Van Horn and for the second straight year. In each of the previous two appearances Arkansas also advanced to the College World Series.
"We knew it was a special group when we got them here two falls ago," Van Horn said. "We started out great last year then kind of fell apart at the end and then got it going again (in the postseason) mainly because of these young guys.
"Coming back their goal was to get to Omaha and win it all. We knew what we had to do. It came down to one game and I felt like we weren't going to be denied. This is a great group and now we've got to find a way to go get it done in Tempe."
Awaiting Arkansas is Arizona State, the No. 1 national seed with a 50-8 record this season. The Sun Devils won three games in three days over the weekend to advance through the regional round.
It will be a match-up of a pair of teams that made it to the College World Series last season and a rematch of a midweek series from last year when the Razorbacks twice beat the Sun Devils at Baum Stadium.