FAYETTEVILLE – Collin Kuhn had three hits and Jordan Pratt collected a two-inning save as the No. 15 University of Arkansas baseball team defeated Washington State, 6-4, Saturday night at Baum Stadium in game four of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional. The Razorbacks built a three-run lead but Washington State pulled to within one in the eighth inning before Pratt closed the door in front of 9,016 fans to keep Arkansas undefeated in regional play.
"It was a great game," head coach Dave Van Horn said. "It looked like it was going to be a pitchers’ duel for the first few innings. Both pitchers were lighting it up. We got a couple of hits and did a good job of battling in there. Their second baseman made about every play you could make. He saved them three runs with his glove and then got two for them with his home run. Every time it seemed like we were going to put them away, he made a play. We were fortunate that Jordan came in and closed it out."
The Razorbacks scored the first run of the ballgame in the top of the third courtesy of an RBI double by Kuhn. James McCann got things started with a bloop single to center field. With one down, Kuhn knocked a 1-1 offering from Washington State starter Adam Conley to the wall in left center and McCann scored all the way from first on the play to give the Hogs the early advantage. After a two-out walk to Brett Eibner, Andy Wilkins delivered with a base hit up the middle to plate Kuhn for a 2-0 lead.
Arkansas (42-18) took advantage of a pair of Washington State errors in the top of the fourth to score two runs and stretch its lead. Bo Bigham led off the inning with single to right center. Travis Sample followed with a flare to right that fell between the shortstop and right fielder. Trying to cut down the lead runner at third, Derek Jones uncorked a wild throw into the infield that allowed Bigham to score as Sample moved into second.
Later in the inning, with runners on second and third after a Tim Carver base hit and a fielder’s choice, Zack Cox grounded a ball to third base but the throw to first pulled the defender off the bag, the Cougars’ second error of the inning, and Carver came in to score the Razorbacks’ fourth run.
Washington State (35-21) cut its lead in half with a two-run homer by Cody Bartlett in the bottom of the sixth. Drew Smyly issued a four-pitch walk to Kyle Johnson before giving up the shot to Bartlett, his seventh long ball of the season. Smyly retired the next two hitters, via strikeout and groundout, to get out of the inning with the Razorbacks leading, 4-2.
With his strikeout of Michael Weber to lead off the second inning, Smyly became the sixth pitcher in program history to register 100 strikeouts in a season. He is the first Razorback hurler to eclipse the century mark since Jess Todd and Nick Schmidt totaled 128 and 111 strikeouts, respectively, during the 2007 season. Smyly fanned seven Washington State hitters Saturday and now has 105 strikeouts, tied for the eighth highest single-season total (Matt Carnes, 1996) on Arkansas’ all-time list. Smyly earned the win Saturday and improved to 9-1.
The two teams traded solo home runs in the seventh inning. Leading off the top half, Cox lined a shot the opposite way and cleared the fence in left center for his ninth home run of the season. Weber countered with a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the inning but Arkansas still held a two-run edge.
The Cougars mounted a rally in the bottom of the eighth but Arkansas, with the help of Pratt, escaped a no-out, bases-loaded jam with just one run crossing the plate. DJ Baxendale entered the game to start the eighth in relief of Smyly but allowed singles to the first three hitters he faced. He was replaced by Geoffrey Davenport but the left-handed sophomore walked Jones with the bases loaded to force in a run and cut the Hogs’ lead to one.
With the bases full of Washington State players, Van Horn next turned to Pratt out of the bullpen. Pratt fell behind the first hitter he faced but on a 3-1 count Matt Fanelli lifted an innocent pop fly that Bigham squeezed for the first out. With the crowd on its feet, Pratt got Weber to swing at strike three and induced a fly ball off the bat of Shea Vucinich for the third out.
"My adrenaline was pumping," Pratt said. "There is no better feeling than picking up a teammate. I’ve been in that situation before and I was glad I could help out."
Kuhn stepped to the plate to lead off the ninth and hammered a 3-1 pitch from Connor Lambert into the fans beyond the Hogs’ bullpen in left. The long ball was his third home run of the Fayetteville Regional and 15th of the season. Kuhn finished the night with a 3-for-5 performance at the plate with two RBI and two runs scored. The solo home run gave Arkansas the 6-4 lead, the game’s final tally.
In the bottom of the ninth, Pratt gave up a leadoff double to pinch hitter Ryan Peterson, but shook it off to record two outs with his next two pitches. Down to the team’s final out, Patrick Claussen lined a shot to left field but defensive sub Matt Vinson charged the ball and made a diving catch to seal the win and give Pratt his second save of the season.
With the win, Arkansas will return to the field Sunday night at 7:05 p.m. at Baum Stadium. The Razorbacks will face the winner of Sunday’s elimination game between Washington State and Kansas State which is slated for a 2:05 p.m. first pitch. For more information, visit the 2010 NCAA Fayetteville Regional Central page at ArkansasRazorbacks.com.