TEMPE, Ariz. – Junior Brett Eibner forced extra innings with a two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth and freshman DJ Baxendale pitched six fabulous innings of relief to lead the No. 15 Arkansas Razorback baseball team in the second game of the Tempe Super Regional on Sunday night at Jim Brock Ballpark, but their efforts came up short as the Arizona State Sun Devils defeated the Hogs 7-5 in 12 innings.
The home run for Eibner was his 22nd of the season which matches the second most by a Razorback in a single season and the second game-tying bomb in as many years in the postseason. Eibner also hit the home run in the bottom of the ninth against Virginia at the College World Series to force extra innings in that epic contest.
"My job is to get on base and score," Eibner said. "With two strikes, I was just looking to put the ball in play. It just so happens that he hung a slider and I hit it out."
Arkansas (43-21) ends its season at the NCAA Super Regional. It is the first time in school history that the Razorbacks played in back-to-back Super Regional series since the system was adopted in 1999. Arizona State (52-8) advances to the College World Series with the victory for the second consecutive season.
"It doesn’t surprise me that we came back and tied it up with two strikes," head coach Dave Van Horn said. "We always feel like we’re in the game until that last out is recorded. I think there’s a lot of parity in college baseball right now. There are a lot of great coaches and great players.
"We came in here and we knew we were the underdog. We weren’t playing our best baseball. Our best baseball was about five or six weeks ago before all the injuries and we never really got it going again, maybe just enough to get (to the Super Regional). We played hard and we never quit. That’s why I’m proud of these guys."
In the second 12-inning game in as many nights, Arizona State hit its fourth home run of the game, this one off the bat of Drew Maggi, his only hit of the game, off Razorback reliever TJ Forrest to propel the Sun Devils to Omaha.
For Arkansas to get to the point where Eibner could hit the game-tying home run in the ninth, Arkansas got an unbelievable performance from Baxendale who pitched a season long 6.1 innings and allowed just one run on four hits. The Razorbacks trailed, 4-2, when Baxendale entered the ballgame.
"(DJ) did a great job, especially as a freshman coming into the game in a spot like that," Van Horn said. "We battled back and got a couple of runs here and there. The team was making plays, defensively, and he was throwing strikes. He gave us a chance. I was proud of him. He grew up a lot tonight out there. I think the he pitched tonight is going to help him in the summer and in the fall going into 2011."
For the second straight game, Arizona State was the first team on the scoreboard after Zach Wilson opened the second inning with a home run down the left field line. The Sun Devils would build on that lead with a pair of home runs in the third inning to make it a 4-0 game. Riccio Torrez connected for a two-run shot to left center and was followed by Wilson who hit his second of the game, this one to right-center field.
Arkansas would cut the Arizona State lead in half with just one hit in the bottom of the fourth inning. Zack Cox led off with a single to left field and was followed by a one out walk to Andy Wilkins. After getting the second out of the inning, Arizona State starter Merrill Kelly began to get wild and hit both Bo Bigham and James McCann loading the bases and then allowing one run to score. Matt Vinson worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch to bring another run across the plate and make the score 4-2.
The Razorbacks scored again in the fifth to make it a 4-3 game as they inched back into the contest. Cox doubled to left field with one out and scored two batters later when Wilkins lined a ball over the second baseman and into the right-center field gap. Solid pitching through the middle innings by Arkansas starter Drew Smyly and reliever Baxendale spurred the Arkansas comeback.
An error to open the seventh inning would hurt the Razorbacks as it allowed the Sun Devils to once again take a two-run lead. The error was followed by a walk and a sacrifice bunt which placed runners at second and third with one out. A sacrifice fly to center scored the lone ASU run, making the score 5-3 with two-plus innings left.
The Razorbacks would not go down without a fight as they rallied in both the seventh and eighth innings, but unfortunately would only get one run out of the excitement. In the seventh Arkansas would put runners on first and second with one out, but a base running gaff and a close play at the plate on a fly out to right field ended the threat. In the eighth back-to-back hits by Bigham, a double down the left-field line, and McCann scored one run to make it 5-4 going into the ninth.
The game would end with Cox improving his school record for hits in a season as he collected three on the night to bring his single season total to 102. He is the first Razorback record 100 hits in a year and with the season completed, he also set Arkansas’ single season record for batting average, hitting .428. Also in the record books was Smyly’s six strikeouts which bring his season total to 114. Smyly is the sixth Arkansas player to record 100 strikeouts in a single season and ranks fifth on the Razorback single season list.