Using a four-run, eighth-inning rally in a steady downpour, top-seeded Arkansas overcame a late deficit to force a deciding game at the Fayetteville Regional with an 11-10 victory over Missouri State early Monday morning at Baum Stadium.
After the Bears (42-18) scored the tie-breaking run in the top of the eighth on Blake Graham‘s two-out single, the Razorbacks took advantage of sloppy playing conditions and a two-run homer from Jared Gates to claim an 11-8 lead. The game-clinching rally did not come without controversy, as home plate umpire Ramon Armendariz initially halted play prior to the start of the inning with substantial precipitation covering the field and rainfall accumulating at various points on the playing surface. But, after protests from the Arkansas dugout, that decision was overturned by NCAA Primary Site Representative Gene McArtor, thus allowing play to continue.
In a game that took six hours to complete from start to finish, thanks in part to an hour-and-24-minute rain delay in the fourth inning, the final tipping point arrived shortly before 3 a.m., after Luke Bonfield and Dominic Fletcher delivered back-to-back singles to start the eighth for the home team. Jax Biggers bouncer to second plated the tying run, before a pair of wild pitches allowed the go-ahead tally to cross the plate, as Jake Fromson struggled to find a grip on the ball in the slippery conditions.
After Carson Shaddy reached on a free pass from Fromson—the NCAA Division I WHIP leader, who had walked just 13 batters entering regional play—Gates belted a 2-2 offering over the wall in right to hand the Razorbacks just enough breathing room to seal the victory.
Hunter Steinmetz pulled MSU back to within a run with a two-out, two-run home run of his own in the top of the ninth, but Evan Lee—the eighth UA pitcher of the night—snuck a 2-2 pitch by Justin Paulsen for the final out to set up a 6 p.m. rematch Monday for the right to advance to Super Regional play next weekend.
Steinmetz continued his red-hot regional performance with a 3-for-4 night in which he reached base safely in five of his six plate appearances, scoring a career-high four runs and driving in two more with his second home run in as many days against the Razorbacks (45-18).
Biggers led the Arkansas attack with a 2-for-3 effort, driving in three runs, including the tying tally in the eighth, while three additional Razorbacks posted two-hit games as part of a 13-hit performance.
Despite the one-run final margin, the contest appeared to be headed toward an early decision after Arkansas plated three runs in the first inning. After being limited to four runs or less in each of their first three postseason games, the Razorbacks needed just two innings to reach that total in their second regional meeting with the Bears. Leadoff man Eric Cole greeted MSU starter Austin Knight with a double to left-center field, setting off a first-inning rally that would see the home club plate three runs on four hits. Chad Spanberger drove in the first run of the contest with a line single to right before Bonfield delivered a base hit and Fletcher’s bouncer to third moved both runners into scoring position. The lead would grow to three runs when Biggers laced Knight’s first offering into left-center for a two-run single.
Grant Koch kept the pressure on Knight with another two-base hit to start the second, then scored Cole’s second straight hit to stretch the margin to 4-0.
After Knight worked around a one-out error to strand a pair of UA baserunners, the MSU offense went to work in the top of the third, getting a leadoff single from John Privitera to spark its first scoring chance of the night. Steinmetz followed with a double to right, and Paulsen cut the lead in half with a two-run single off Razorback reliever Cannon Chadwick. A two-out single by Graham kept the rally alive, before Chadwick uncorked a wild pitch to bring Paulsen home from third to make it a 4-3 game.
Biggers would come through with the third straight leadoff double for Arkansas to spark a two-run rally in the third. The Razorbacks benefited from three walks, including a free pass to Jake Arledge with the bases loaded, as well as a Cole sacrifice fly to push their lead back to three runs.
MSU was threatening with a pair of runners in scoring position in the top of the fourth when play was halted due to rain. After the lengthy delay, UA reliever Matt Cronin retired Paulsen on a liner to right for the final out in the frame.
But the Bears used back-to-back two-out walks to Graham and Alex Jefferson to initiate a fifth-inning rally, then capitalize on three Razorback errors in the sixth to score three times and take their first lead of the night. Jack Duffy came through with his second single of the game in the fifth to plate Graham and pull MSU back to within two runs. A throwing error on a Privitera bunt, followed by a walk to Steinmetz opened the door to the Bears’ big sixth inning. Jake Burger‘s one-out single to left brought in Privitera, and the first of two Arledge throwing errors allowed both baserunners to move into scoring position.
Next, Jeremy Eierman laced a single to left that plated both the tying and go-ahead runs after the ball skipped past Arledge for the third UA miscue of the inning.
The Razorbacks rebounded quickly, scoring in the home half of the inning on Shaddy’s two-out single to right to even the score at 7-7. It would stay there, as Jordan Knutson fanned Gates for the final out to leave two runners in scoring position. The senior lefty worked out of a seventh-inning jam as well, striking out Spanberger for the final out to strand Arledge at second following a one-out double.
Steinmetz would be at the center of another MSU scoring threat in the top of the eighth, drawing his second straight walk to start the inning. Following a Burger single, Jake Reindl retired Eierman on a liner to shortstop for the second out, but Graham’s looping single to center fell in to allow Steinmetz time to score the go-ahead run.
In addition to Steinmetz’s big game, Privitera finished with two hits and two runs scored, and Burger and Graham each drove in a run with multi-hit nights for MSU.