A late-night start, a two-hour rain delay, and an obstinate opponent in the Missouri State Bears yielded a night Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said he’ll never forget.
“It’ll be one that I’ll never forget,” Van Horn said. “I told the players in the outfield, I hadn’t been up this late in years, so this was kind of interesting. But yeah, what a day. Crazy.”
Call it an epic, call it a marathon, call it what you will, but the six-hour contest left about 1,000 fans calling the Hogs as Arkansas pitcher Evan Lee fended off Bears, 11-10, for the final out at 3:10 a.m. at Baum Stadium.
No. 11 Razorbacks’ victory over the No. 21 Bears forces Monday’s 6 p.m. deciding game in the Fayetteville Regional.
On Saturday, Missouri State (42-18) knocked the Hogs (45-18) into the loser’s bracket, 5-4, with a come-from-behind victory.
Tonight’s title game will be the rubber match to decide which team sacks up the bats for the season and which team advances to Super Regional play.
Arkansas third baseman Jared Gates hit a two-run homer in the eighth to give the Hogs an 11-8 lead.
Lee, the Hogs’ eighth pitcher in the game, drew the final out on the Bears after Missouri State’s Hunter Steinmetz hammered a two-run homer in the ninth to pull the Bears within 11-10.
Earlier Sunday, the Razorbacks battled their way through the loser’s bracket, eliminating Oral Roberts University, 4-3, thanks to a Herculean home run by first baseman Chad Spanburger, his 20th of the year.
The first pitch of the ORU victory also was delayed for nearly two hours making it a 15-hour day for the Hogs at the ballpark. The Hogs wrapped up the ORU game just after 8 p.m., forcing a 9:10 p.m. start for the Arkansas-Missouri State game.
Arkansas led the Bears, 6-3, in the fourth inning at 11:10 p.m., when rain forced the teams into the dugout. Van Horn said he was in favor of halting the game at that point and resuming Monday, but Missouri State coach Keith Guttin was against it.
The game resumed 85 minutes later at 12:25 a.m., The Bears picked up a run in the fifth and three more in the sixth to take a 7-6 lead. Arkansas evened it up in the bottom of the sixth for a 7-7 knot. The Bears added a run in the top of the eighth for an 8-7 lead.
The umpires called for the tarp in the middle of the eighth, but Van Horn vehemently argued that Missouri State should have to pitch in the rain just like the Hogs were forced to do when Missouri State took the lead in the top of the eighth.
The tarp was held, play resumed, and continued as the rain let up.
Guttin, who argued for continuing play at 12:25 a.m., was upset that Van Horn’s assertive reasoning with the officials kept the tarp from being called out a second time and further delaying the game.
Guttin gave Arkansas credit for the win, but said he didn’t think games should be decided in the rain at 3 a.m.
“I thought we should have gone home in the fourth,” Van Horn said. “They wouldn’t have any of it.”
Van Horn added that after the grounds crew spread the cat litter on the mound and at home plate the rain had let up anyway.
A Jax Biggers sacrifice grounder tied the game at 8 in the bottom of the eighth. Two wild pitches allowed Dominic Fletcher to score from second base for a 9-8 Razorback lead. Then Gates slapped his two-run homer for what would be the deciding runs.