- Zach Cox, batting at the College World Series in 2009, the last year the team made it to Omaha.
Could this band of Razorback baseballers be any more endearing or more aggravating?
They are headed to the College World Series for the third time in Dave Van Horn's decade-long stint as head coach, and there is no disputing that this trek to Omaha is as fortuitous as any path worn by any team before. Consider all the improbabilities:
• Arkansas has scored 18 runs over six NCAA tournament games, and has managed to somehow take TWO 1-0 decisions in the span of nine days. Beating a formidable Rice team on its turf despite getting only two hits suggested that perhaps this team was charmed; worming out of jam after jam against a far beefier Baylor lineup en route to the CWS gave this punchless bunch an almost mythical quality.
• In the Baylor super regional, the Arkansas pitching staff compiled an unfathomable run of 14 scoreless innings against one of the nation's best offenses, employing a true committee approach. Brandon Moore and Trent Daniel worked in and out of trouble both nights in sweltering heat. Maligned lefty Randall Fant gave the Hogs a lift with the biggest four innings of his career in a masterful short start Monday night, keeping Baylor frustrated and pressing after its unthinkable collapse the night before.
• This team wasn't built on muscle, but to soldier through the SEC tournament and a half-dozen NCAA tourney games without hitting a single home run is almost comical. The Hogs also looked listless and whipped in an unceremonious two-game stint at the conference's extraneous double-elimination tourney in scenic Hoover, Alabama. How a college baseball team manages to conquer its own deficiencies and stay in the hunt for the brass ring for this long is almost beyond comprehension.
• As capable as the Razorbacks' pitching has been all year, the three games against Baylor were hardly typical. The starting pitchers all went only four innings each: DJ Baxendale got pounded in the opener and Ryne Stanek was felled by his own sketchy command and high pitch counts. To have to rely on a bullpen for 15 innings over the span of just over 48 hours is not the conventional mechanism for postseason glory, but all of the Hogs' relievers demonstrated remarkable poise. Perhaps the signature inning of the entire regional was the top of the 8th on Sunday: Baylor loaded the bases with none out, leading 4-3 and presumably needing only one insurance run to lock up the CWS berth. Instead, sophomore righty Barrett Astin clenched his teeth, fanned a batter, and then induced a spectacularly turned double play groundout to snuff out Baylor's surge.
Arkansas draws Kent State in the CWS opener on Saturday. The Golden Flashes are on their maiden voyage to Omaha courtesy of authoring their own storybook: an exhausting 21-inning win over Kentucky to start the regional round somehow emboldened them instead of draining them, and they mowed down Oregon Monday night in extra innings to claim that super. They will not be a pushover, and with the way Arkansas has been hitting, there is no such thing as a pushover anyway.
The inverse applies as well. For all their struggles with the bat, these Hogs simply do not relent. After getting bombed by Baylor in the first game of the Supers, they stubbornly held the Bears at bay and took two of the most dramatic and memorable wins in the program's history. Do not be surprised if they parlay this house money into great gains in Omaha this weekend.