Some might call it poetic justice that the No. 21 Missouri State Bears advanced to the NCAA Super Regional Monday night with a 3-2 victory over the No. 11 Arkansas Razorbacks in the Fayetteville Regional final in Baum Stadium.
Maybe it was karmic payback, if you believe in that sort of stuff.
In 2015, the Hogs advanced to the College World Series over the Bears in the Super Regional that should have been hosted at Missouri State’s ballpark but was played at Baum Stadium instead because of a scheduling issue.
More likely, the Bears (43-18) were just a smidge better than the Razorbacks (45-19), a squad that struggled winning tight, low-scoring games all season.
Either way, what a ballgame and what a tournament.
“I just think that shows the strength of the teams that were here,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said after the game. “Is there an elite team here? Time will tell. We’ll see how Missouri State does. I think everybody was really good. As far as just solid 1-4 seeds, there probably wasn’t a better regional in the country because some teams get over ranked or over seeded. I just think it was a great regional.”
Many expected the contest would play out more like home-run derby than the pitching showdown between the pitching staffs, Van Horn felt the Hogs, 11-10 victory over the Bears in the wee hours Monday morning might have taxed both teams’ hitters.
“I think both teams were a little bit tired,” Van Horn said. “You can mentally be into it, but playing until 3:15 a.m. messes you up. When I went to sleep, the sun was coming up. It’s not normal. I don’t play, and I feel a little bit different today. I think our minds and our hearts were in it, but the bodies weren’t quite there.”
Whatever the explanation, pitching was the story, and the Bears had just a little more juice than the Razorbacks.
Missouri State’ pitchers hogtied the Razorbacks with Doug Still taking the early innings, Bryan Young getting them through the middle, and Jordan Knutson closing the door.
They held Arkansas’ to just five hits all by Eric Cole, who was 3 for 4, and Jared Gates, who was 2 for 4, with a home run and a double. The meat of Arkansas’ lineup, batters Nos. 2 through 6 failed to get a hit.
“We had four one-run games that we played and we played great competition all four games and beat a very good Arkansas team in a great atmosphere for Arkansas,” Missouri State coach Keith Guttin said. “This is a hard place to win. I’m very, very proud of out guys bouncing back after last night’s loss.”
Arkansas sophomore pitcher Kacey Murphy, who started for the second day in a row, was nearly as effective with Josh Alberius, Blaine Knight, and Dominic Taccolini also throwing well.
Missouri State shortstop Jeremy Eierman’s two-run home run in the sixth inning broke a 1-1 tie and proved to be the game-winning hit.
Two wild pitches by Knutson allowed in the seventh allowed Gates, who doubled, to score, but he held the Razorbacks in check the rest of the way.
No doubt, the loss on their home turf is tough for the Hogs to swallow, but the way the series panned out was not uncommon for this Razorback team that struggled to score runs in mini droughts throughout the season.
Van Horn reiterated his feeling about the quality of play in the Regional that also included Oral Roberts University and Oklahoma State, and the way the tournament was conducted overall, despite the decision that left the Razorbacks and Bears playing at such an odd hour Sunday night and Monday morning.
“I just think it was a great regional,” Van Horn said. “I think with all of the problems with the weather and battling, I think the fans were incredible. I think our support staff and administration did the best job they could. They did a great job.”
Van Horn credited the partisan Razorback crowd for their efforts throughout the tournament, but particularly after midnight Sunday into Monday morning.
“The crowd last night, I didn’t really mention it, was unbelievable at 1, 2, 3 in the morning,” Van Horn said. “I felt like there was 10,000 people in the stands. They were right on cue with everything that was going on. It made you proud to be associated with Arkansas and be their coach.”