OMAHA, Neb. – Arkansas doesn't want to leave Omaha just yet.
When Virginia closer Kevin Arico entered the game in the top of the ninth inning with his team leading the Razorbacks 3-1, coach Dave Van Horn saw the season flash before his eyes.
Arico entered the College World Series with 11 saves and a 2.06 earned run average – not a strong candidate to blow a save.
Arkansas first baseman Andy Wilkins began the inning with a ground out to shortstop. One out. Infielder Bo Bigham then grounded out to shortstop. Two outs.
Things quickly changed. The next batter, freshman Zack Cox, fired a 1-2 pitch up the middle for a single. Brett Eibner then provided the biggest hit of the season with a towering two-run home run to tie the game at 3-3.
It was a new ball game. It took 12 long innings, but Arkansas won 4-3.
"We've been behind before and we've been doing things like this all season long," Van Horn said. "It's just unbelievable to me that we came back like this. It really brought back a lot of great memories."
With their season on the brink, the Razorbacks showed what they're about: a team that rises to the occasion.
There's sophomore Brett Eibner.
Eibner entered the CWS with 10 homers. But with a .223 batting average, perhaps he wasn't the one that Hogs expected to get the game-tying home run. After a less-than-stellar start on the mound against LSU a couple nights ago, it was a redemptive night.
There's junior Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel allowed four runs in six innings in the opener against Cal State Fullerton. Even on short rest, the left-hander wanted to in the game and didn't disappoint. He struck out five and allowed three hits in his four shutout innings. He also saved some pitching in the process. Keuchel shook his head "yes" when Van Horn was asked about available pitchers for Friday's game against LSU.
"I just kept telling myself we've been through so much as a team and I wasn't going to let them go out like that," Keuchel said. "I just wanted to go out there and take things one pitch at a time and work with my slider. I got some swings and misses and that was it."
And there's senior Andrew Darr.
Darr entered the season with high hopes. But entering the CWS, he had started only 26 games and had a .245 batting average. In the Tallahassee Super Regional, Darr got the game-winning hit to send the Hogs to Omaha. Against Virginia, Darr's RBI double in the 12th gave the Hogs the 4-3 lead and victory.
"I was just looking for something up in the zone, was just hoping to get a breaking ball," he said. "I definitely had some confidence [having gotten a big hit before] going into the at bat in that situation. I also didn't know my hit came on the 10th pitch. I was just trying to get something going for the team."
The heroics by Keuchel, Eibner and Darr happened for a reason. This team doesn't want to leave Omaha anytime soon.
But to avoid that fate against LSU on Friday, the Hogs need a little luck. The pitching staff was stretched to the limit Wednesday, but only starter Drew Smyly likely won't be available against the Tigers.
"We've got some guys to use. It may not be guys you would normally see on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but we've got some arms," Van Horn said. "We are thin right now, but we know what lies ahead of us."
For now, the Razorbacks have at least two more days to enjoy the CWS.
They hope to stay even longer.
What's on deck
Arizona State coach Pat Murphy will find out how his young Sun Devils deal with adversity against North Carolina on Thursday.
The Sun Devils are surprised to be in an elimination game. After beating North Carolina in the opener, the Sun Devils sent All-American pitcher Mike Leake out against Texas.
The Devils staked Leake to a 6-0 lead after three innings, but the usually unhittable right-hander didn't hold up his end of the bargain. He allowed six runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings before ASU dropped a 10-6 decision.
With their season in the balance, the Sun Devils aren't sure who will start against the Tar Heels. However, the suggested candidates include Josh Spence, Seth Blair, Jordan Swagerty, or perhaps even Mitchell Lambson, who allowed three hits in 3 1/3 innings against the Longhorns in his last outing. Blair allowed two runs without recording an out and Swagerty only recorded two outs against the Longhorns.
There's a good chance the Sun Devils go with Spence. Spence, though, likely wouldn't be able to go the distance. He threw 122 pitches Sunday afternoon against the Heels. He struck out eight batters and allowed one run in seven innings. If Spence starts, it looks like three or four innings could be the max.
Murphy also could surprise everyone by starting Leake. The righty only threw 77 pitches against Texas and is capable of coming back on short rest.
While Arizona State's pitching situation is in limbo, North Carolina has a fresh starter in right-hander Matt Harvey. Harvey didn't pitch in the Chapel Hill Super Regional because the Tar Heels swept the series against East Carolina. But in his last outing against Dartmouth, he allowed two runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Harvey enters the contest 7-2 with a 5.35 ERA in 70 2/3 innings. He has struck out 78 and walked 37 and opponents are hitting him at a .301 clip.
For Arizona State, the key to the game is a solid start on the mound. The Sun Devils have a wealth of talented pitchers, but can't afford to go to the bullpen early.
The Sun Devils must handle adversity better as well. Against Texas, the Sun Devils folded under pressure after the Longhorns stormed back. The Tar Heels, if trailing in the game, will make a run at some point.
For North Carolina, there are several talented pitchers if Harvey exits early. However, they still need a good start from Harvey to avoid putting too much pressure on the bullpen. It'll be interesting to see how Harvey throws against the Sun Devils considering he hasn't started in two weeks. Also against the Sun Devils, the offense must come to play. The Tar Heels were dismal at the plate the first game against the Sun Devils, but finally got in a groove against Southern Mississippi. We'll see if that translates into more success.