Razorbacks surprise Fullerton State 10-6
OMAHA, Neb. – No team came into the NCAA baseball tournament struggling any more than Arkansas.
Right now, no team seems better.
With Andy Wilkins homering and driving in five runs, Arkansas started off the College World Series with a 10-6 victory over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday.
The Razorbacks reached a double-digit run total for the fourth time in six games. Nine of their runs scored with two outs.
No doubt, coach Dave Van Horn likes the way his team has responded to his challenge after the Hogs lost 10 of 13 games heading into the national tournament.
“The No. 1 goal was to win the national championship, and the only way to do that was to play in Omaha. That’s all they had left,” Van Horn said. “I asked them what people are going to remember this team by – the one that started great and faded or the one that finished strong?
“They took it to heart and have been lights out.”
No one has been better than Wilkins. The sophomore first baseman is batting .593 (16 for 27) with four homers, five other extra-base hits, and 17 RBIs in six NCAA tournament games.
“I’m trying to keep it going,” he said. “I got hot in the Norman Regional and tried to keep it going in the super regionals, and now we’re here. I’m doing what I can to help the ballclub.”
The Hogs (40-22) play Monday night against LSU. Fullerton (47-15) meets Virginia in a Bracket 1 elimination game.
The Razorbacks ripped freshman pitcher Noe Ramirez while stunning the No. 2 seeded Titans and giving Van Horn his first victory in seven CWS games. Van Horn is in the CWS for the fourth time. He went 0-4 with Nebraska in 2001 and ’02 and 0-2 with Arkansas in 2004.
Arkansas manufactured two runs in the first inning, scored two more in the third on Zack Cox’s homer, and then broke open the game with a five-run fourth.
“It was big for us to go out and show that we were going to be in the game, that we had a pretty good club and we could swing it,” Van Horn said. “Scoring early was huge for us and put pressure on them.”
Wilkins highlighted the fourth inning with a three-run homer to right off freshman Tyler Pill, who was making his first relief appearance.
Ramirez (9-2) lasted just 3 2-3 innings, the shortest of his 15 starts, and gave up seven runs. The first freshman pitcher to start a CWS game for Fullerton left after loading the bases with a walk in the fourth.
Scott Lyons grounded Pill’s first pitch between shortstop and third base for a 6-2 lead, and then Wilkins hit his team-leading 19th homer.
Dallas Keuchel (8-3) allowed four runs on five hits to win his first decision since May 2. Mike Bolsinger pitched the last three innings for his second save.
Fullerton, in the CWS for the 16th time and going for its fifth national title, is one loss from an early exit.
“I don’t think I have to say much to this team,” Titan first baseman Jared Clark said. “We can’t lose another game. All I can tell them is to play better. We got off our game today. You have to give Arkansas some credit. They made some outstanding plays in clutch situations to stop our pressure. All I can say is let’s get back to playing Titan baseball.”
Ramirez, who struck out 18 in 15 innings in regionals and super regionals, walked Chase Leavitt to start the game and then gave up a single to Ben Tschepikow. After Cox hit his fourth homer in six games, and 13th of the season, the Hogs were up 4-0.
“I guess I was a little nervous and too excited,” Ramirez said.
Before Saturday, Titans had trailed in just one inning over its past nine games.
“That didn’t take anything out of us at all,” Clark said. “We fought back really well. We just didn’t come through in some situations.”
Fullerton scored twice in the third to cut Arkansas’ lead to 4-2. Trailing 10-4 in the eighth, the Titans loaded the bases but came away with just one run when Dustin Garneau hit into an inning-ending double play.
“Today wasn’t their day,” Fullerton coach Dave Serrano said. “Arkansas did a good job against those guys, and they’ll get another opportunity on Monday. All we do is ask guys to give us quality at-bats. We didn’t do that enough today.”