TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—In an instant classic at Dick Howser Stadium, Arkansas punched its ticket to Omaha with a manic 9-8 victory over Florida State on Saturday. Both teams had a lead in the ninth inning, but Arkansas was the home team and had the lead when it mattered.
"It was an exciting game to watch," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "But a stressful game to coach . . . We saved the best for last."
Up 7-5 with one out in the top of the eighth inning, Arkansas closer Stephen Richards entered the game. Richards got through the eighth, and then got the first guy in the ninth before giving up an uncharacteristic walk to first baseman Mike Meschke. Richards bounced back and struck out catcher Rafael Lopez and got a quick two-strike count on center fielder Tyler Holt. Holt fouled off a couple of pitches and then dumped a double down the right-field line. Holt’s hit ignited the 4,581 fans in attendance.
"He is a great, great leadoff hitter," Van Horn said of Holt. "He is a tough kid, he just fought and fought."
With the crowd chanting N-O-L-E-S, shortstop Stephen Cardullo stepped to the plate with runners at second and third. Cardullo was quickly down 0-2, but he fouled off several pitches before lining a sharp, line-drive single through the left side to score two runs and tie the game.
Richards then walked center fielder Mike McGee, and second baseman Jason Stidham came to the plate. Stidham came through with the third two-strike, two-out hit of the inning for Florida State, dumping a ball over the shortstop into shallow left field to score the go-ahead run.
"In 35 years I do not know when I’ve enjoyed a year more than watching what these young men accomplished," Florida State coach Mike Martin said.
Arkansas entered the bottom of the ninth down 8-7, and Seminole reliever Jack Posey got the first out. But with one out, freshman second baseman Bo Bigham stepped to the plate for Arkansas. "I just wanted to extend the game," Bigham said.
Bigham walked in an outstanding 10-pitch at-bat, giving Arkansas life. "Bo’s at-bat was a 21-year-old at-bat by a true freshman," Van Horn said.
Third baseman Zack Cox singled to right, putting runners at first and second. That brought up right fielder Andrew Darr, who entered the game with 93 at-bats on the year. He had already delivered three hits, including a homer, to that point in the game. Darr sent a hard line drive into the left-center-field gap to score two runs and send Arkansas to Omaha. The Razorbacks tackled Darr between second and third in celebration. "It is a great feeling I will have for a long time," Darr said.
Darr was in the game because the Razorbacks’ usual center fielder, Brett Eibner was starting on the mound. "I wanted Brett to focus on pitching, and he (Darr) has been hitting the ball great in batting practice," Van Horn said. "Guys think I do not notice that stuff, but I see everything."
The Razorbacks will go to the College World Series for the sixth time in their history and the first time since 2004. "They started believing we could get to Omaha a few weeks ago," Van Horn said, "and watching that game, I’ll never forget it."
"We are going to Omaha," first baseman Andy Wilkins said. "And I am pretty excited to say those words."