Okay, so I must admit that I've really been phoning in my coverage of Razorback baseball lately. Moving and going back to grad school really takes it out of you. On the bright side, though, I'm finally back on the Hill; my year away was far too long. I apologize to anyone that has missed the more detailed accounts of the Diamond Hogs that I was doing earlier in the season, although I'm fairly sure that I can count the number of people who miss said coverage on one hand (ha!). Anyways, the Diamond Hogs spent this past weekend hosting the Fayetteville Regional, and as the title might suggest, they did not disappoint.Fayetteville Regional
Grambling St. - June 4
Arkansas easily drew one of the most favorable opening round matchups: 22-31 Grambling St., the automatic bid from the SWAC. The Hogs' offensive slump has been well documented, but aparently, all it takes is a team with (very) suspect pitching to get the bats rolling again. Arkansas took the lead quickly, with 6 runs in the 1st inning and 11 through the first 3, and never looked back. This game signaled the return of the long ball, as the Diamond Hogs hit a school-record 9 homeruns in the contest. In addition, 4 Razorbacks (Collin Kuhn, Brett Eibner, Andy Wilkins, and James McCann) tallied at least 2 homers a piece, with Eibner pacing the offense by going 4-5 with 3 homeruns and a career-high 7 RBIs. All told, the Hogs put Grambling away 19-7, with 17 hits.
Washington St. - June 5
In the first game in the winners bracket, the Hogs were matched up with familiar foe Washington St. The Razorbacks put up 2 runs in each of the 3rd and 4th innings on a flurry of singles and add another on Zaco Cox's solo homer in the 7th, and Drew Smyly pitched 7 innings, while giving up 3 runs and striking out 7. The pitching staff runs into a little trouble in the 8th, as usual near-automatic closer DJ Baxendale loads the bases without recording an out. He's replaced by Geoffrey Davenport, who then walks a run across on 4 pitches and immediately gets yanked. He's replaced by Jordan Pratt, who mercifully retires the next 3 batters in order to get the Hogs out of a major jam. At this point, the Cougars only trail by 1 run, until Collin Kuhn leads off the top of the 9th with a solo shot of his own. Pratt slams the door on the WSU offense in the bottom of the inning, and the Hogs pick up the 6-2 win and a berth in the championship round.
Washington St. - June 6
As luck would have it, the Hogs get another shot at WSU in the championship round, after the Cougars had eliminated Kansas St. earlier in the day. The Cougars, facing elimination, are in "desperation mode", as they bring in ace pitcher James Wise for his second start of the day. They jump out to an early 2-0 lead with runs in the 1st and 3rd innings, before the Hogs can add their own run off a Bo Bigham RBI in the bottom of the 3rd. It all goes south in the 5th, though, as Mike Bolsinger gets dinged for 5 runs to put the Cougs up 7-1. The Hogs immediately battle back, scoring 5 unanswered runs over the next 3 innings to get back within 1 run. The 8th inning would not be kind to the Hogs either, as Christian Kowalchuk allows 3 more runs to erase the Hog threat. Bigham adds another RBI in the bottom of the inning, but that's as close as the Hogs would get, as they take the 10-7 loss.
Washington St. - June 7
Having failed to eliminate the Cougars the night before, the Hogs get one more chance, with a trip to Tempe on the line. Not wanting to make it anymore dramatic than needbe, the Hogs race out to a 6-1 lead by the end of the 3rd and never look back. TJ Forrest, Drew Smyly, and Brett Eibner (in the closing role) combine to completely shut-down the WSU offense, combining for 6 hits, 2 run (1 unearned), 2 walks, and 9 Ks. Meanwhile, the Razorback offense scattered 12 hits en route to a 7-2 victory.
Any lingering effects of the vicious offense slump that the Hogs ended the season with appear to be gone. Through 4 games in the Fayetteville regional, the Razorbacks produced an astounding 39 runs on 52 hits. Also, for those counting at home, the Hogs are now 6-1 against Washington St. over the past 2 seasons. As their reward for winning their regional, the Hogs now get to travel to Arizona to take on #1 national seed Arizona St., with a trip to Omaha on the line. The Hogs and Sundevils are obviously well aquainted, with the Hogs losing to #1 ASU twice in 2008 in Tempe and beating #1 ASU twice in 2009 in Fayetteville. The combined score in these games is 25-24 in favor of the Hogs, and I expect that this Super Regional will follow suit and also be a closely matched series. Beating ASU will be an upset by all accounts, but the Hogs are well suited to adversity. In their 1st game in Omaha last season, they sent #2 national seed Cal State-Fullerton to the losers' bracket. The Tempe Super Regional starts on Saturday, with the opening game televised by ESPNU at 8 pm and Sunday's is on ESPN2 at 9. If needed, the rubber match will be at 6 pm on Monday, also on ESPN2. The road to Omaha goes through Tempe, and the Diamond Hogs seem primed to make some noise. Woo Pig Sooie!