FAYETTEVILLE – The No. 15 University of Arkansas baseball team secured a spot in the Super Regional round with a 7-2 victory over Washington State Monday night in the decisive game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional. Making his second start of the Regional, TJ Forrest tossed 5.1 strong innings as the offense built an early lead against the Cougars. The victory sends Arkansas (43-19) to Tempe, Ariz., to take on top-ranked Arizona State beginning Saturday.
"I’m really excited for our team and our fans," head coach Dave Van Horn said. "Tonight’s game was all about the team. I was telling them after the game how proud I am of them because of how they acted this morning. I had two or three guys come up to me and say that they could play. I had a really good feeling coming into tonight because I could tell the team really wanted to win. It all started with TJ on the mound. We got off to a good start with a big lead. It was just our night."
As visitors on the scoreboard, the Razorbacks jumped out to a 3-0 advantage in the top of the first inning behind RBI singles by Brett Eibner and James McCann and a sacrifice fly by Andy Wilkins. After a walk by Collin Kuhn and a base hit by Zack Cox, Arkansas had runners on the corners with no outs. Eibner drove in the game’s first run with a single to center field. Cox moved around to third on the play and came in to score on Wilkins’ fly ball to center. McCann capped the Hogs’ scoring with a single to left field that plated Eibner.
Cox finished the night with a 2-for-3 effort at the plate. His double in the second inning was his 97th hit of the season, tying the Arkansas single-season record. The mark was set by Matt Erickson during the 1996 season. Cox pushed his batting average to .427 with the two hits.
Washington State (37-22) got one of those runs back in the bottom of the second. Designated hitter Matt Fanelli led off the inning with a solo home run to left field off Forrest. Michael Weber followed with a base hit to right. With one down, Forrest induced an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play to limit the damage to that one run.
Monk Kreder led off the Razorbacks’ half of the third with a single to right and was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Bo Bigham. After a walk to McCann and a Matt Vinson base hit to left, Arkansas had the bases loaded. Tim Carver flared a single to right field allowing Kreder to score. Later in the inning, with two outs and runners on second and third, Kuhn doubled to left to drive in Vinson and Carver and the Hogs led, 6-1.
The Cougars responded with a run in the bottom of the fourth. Cody Bartlett reached on a defensive miscue by Carver. The Razorback shortstop bobbled his initial attempt to field the ball and then his throw overshot Kreder at first allowing Bartlett to get to second base. Weber picked up his second hit of the day, an RBI single to drive in the unearned run. Arkansas turned its third double play in as many innings to get back into the dugout.
With the help of his defense, Forrest faced just three over the minimum through five innings of work. After recording the first out of the sixth, the right-handed senior left the game to a standing ovation from the 6,774 fans at Baum Stadium. Forrest allowed four hits and two runs-one earned-in 5.1 innings against Washington State; Forrest also made the start in Arkansas’ opening game of the Regional against Grambling. He picked up the victory Monday to improve to 8-0.
"It doesn’t matter who gets the win, as long as we get it as a team," Forrest said. "I came out trying to keep the ball down to get ground balls and pop flies. Our defense did most of the work."
The Hogs added their final run of the game on one swing of the bat by Derrick Bleeker in the top of the seventh. The freshman infielder entered the game in the bottom of the third inning when Wilkins moved over to play third. Bleeker clubbed a 2-1 offering from Michael Ratigan over the fence in right center for his first career home run.
The pitching and defense continued to hold strong for Arkansas. Drew Smyly worked 2.2 innings in relief of Forrest and struck out three hitters. He was also the recipient of an outstanding diving catch by Vinson that saved an extra-base hit in the bottom of the seventh. Eibner came out of the bullpen in the ninth inning and registered two strikeouts to clinch the game and set up the Razorbacks’ matchup with Arizona State in the Super Regionals.
Behind their success on the field, six Hogs made their way onto the All-Regional Team. Headed up by Kuhn, selected the Most Outstanding Player of the Fayetteville Regional, Arkansas placed Smyly, Forrest, McCann, Wilkins and Eibner to the 11-man team. In four games, Kuhn hit .412 (7-for-17) with four home runs, seven RBI, eight runs scored and a 1.235 slugging percentage. As a team, Arkansas hit .351 with 15 home runs over the weekend.
"Before the tournament, I wasn’t performing like I would like," Kuhn said. "I wanted to get back to sticking to my approach, getting on base and not doing trying to do too much. I think it worked out."
Washington State had four players-Weber, Bartlett, ,Derek Jones and Fanelli-named while Kansas State’s Carter Jurica rounded out the All-Regional Team.
This will mark the program fourth trip to the Super Regional with the other three appearances coming in 2002, 2004 and 2009. Last season, the Razorbacks swept Florida State in Tallahassee on their way to the College World Series. Arkansas and Arizona State are tied, 3-3, in their all-time meetings. The two programs have met twice in postseason play, splitting a pair of matchups in the 1989 and 1998 NCAA Midwest Regional.