FAYETTEVILLE — Missouri State Bears shortstop Jeremy Eierman opened the Fayetteville Regional last Friday with two home runs beating Oklahoma State, 6-5.
He closed the Regional and Arkansas’s 45-19 season Monday night with a 2-run home run for the difference in the Bears’ 3-2 championship game victory before 10,273 at Baum Stadium where the Razorbacks from 5 p.m. Sunday to 3 a.m Monday had clawed out of the loser’s bracket to beat Oral Roberts, 4-3 and beat Missouri State, 11-10 in a rain-delayed slugfest.
The parade of pitchers both used Sunday night deep into Monday morning’s wee hours seemed to bode for another slugfest Monday night,
Monday night’s pitchers would have none of that.
Missouri State starter Doug Still, the championship game victor who started Friday’s victory over Oklahoma State, and Bears relievers Bryan Young and Jordan Knutson and Arkansas starter Kacey Murphy and relievers Josh Alberius, Evan Lee, Blaine Knight and Dominic Taccolini, all recycled from earlier Fayetteville Regional outings including starter Murphy throwing 74 pitches starting Sunday’s victory over Oral Roberts and delivering 80 pitches Monday night, all pitched superbly, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn and Missouri State Coach Keith Guttin both remarked.
Murphy, the sophomore right-hander from Rogers allowed but two hits in five innings but was touched for fourth inning run on a sacrifice fly and walked his last batter in the sixth before Eierman’s 2-run home run ultimately won it.
Other than Jared Gates, 2 for 4 with a fifth-inning home run and a seventh inning double leading him to score on a wild pitch, and Eric Cole, 3 for 4, the Razorbacks bats were silent netting but five hits.
With his sensational crashing into the wall 1-out catch robbing Arkansas catcher Grant Koch of a double, Bears center fielder Hunter Steinmetz also perhaps robbed Arkansas of a third-inning run. Koch probably could have scored from second on Eric Cole’s single to center after Jake Arledge walked.
“He was fearless on that play,” Van Horn said of Eierman. “He never glanced at that wall and he knew it was right there. About the time the ball hit his glove, he hit the wall. It was an incredible play, a gutsy play that play shows how hard these teams play and how much they want to win. That’s a double. Probably not going to get more than a double with Grant on there. We get a runner at second with one out, who knows what’s going to happen?”
Gates wondered, too.
“It’s hard to appreciate how big of a play that was when it was so early in the game,” Gates said. “You look back at it and the entire inning changes, the entire game changes. No one knows what would have happened. It would have been nice if it could have fallen in but it was a nice play. Props to him.”
Eireman’s home run might not have been enough but for that catch.
“That was big-time,” Eireman said. “That’s extra bases there n that really set the line on how hard we are going to play today.”
Shifted perfectly for left-handed pull hitter Spanberger, second baseman John Privitera threw out the Arkansas slugger fielding a bouncer on the grass in short right stranding the runners.
Striking out six times with just an infield hit and a hit batsman to show for three innings, the Bears scored their first off Murphy in the fourth. Jake Burger doubled leading off and tagged up on Eierman’s deep fly to right. Once foul and once missing, Alex Johnson failed twice to bunt then succeeded swinging away for a sacrifice fly to deep left scoring Burger.
Gates answered in Arkansas’ fifth. Gates’ 2-run home run in Sunday night/Monday’s morning’s 4-run eighth inning left Missouri State’s 2-run comeback in the ninth a run short in Arkansas’ 11-10 victory. His 1-out solo line drive home run over right Monday night tied it 1-1.
Eierman broke the tie in the sixth. On his 70th pitch lefty Murphy walked his last man, left-handed hitting Justin Paulsen leading off.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn summoned right-hander Alberius, Sunday afternoon’s winner in 40-pitch relief against ORU as No. 3 and No. 4 right-handed hitters Burger and Eierman loomed. Alberius struck out Burger but Eierman launched his 2-run home run for the 3-1 lead.
“He threw Jake a fastball away and then went all off speed to him,” Eireman said. “I was looking for him to pitch me the same way. So I was sitting fastball middle away and then off speed. I got my pitch and didn’t miss it.”
Alberius shutout the Bears into the seventh.
Freshman lefty Evan Lee of Bryant closing the Sunday/Monday marathon striking out Paulsen, struck out Steinmetz closing the seventh and Paulsen starting the eighth which was finished by sophomore right-hander Blaine Knight of Bryant, the hard-luck losing starter Saturday against Missouri State.
Arkansas senior right-hander Dominic Taccolini flourished in farewell to Baum striking out the side in the ninth.
Bears reliever Bryan Young, fresh from nearly three days rest since a brief outing in Friday’s victory over Oklahoma State, foiled Arkansas’ golden opportunity to tie it 3-3 in the sixth.
Cole’s leadoff single and Still hitting Spanberger with a pitch signaled to Missouri State Coach Keith Guttin that Still’s gallant effort was done with Luke Bonfield, Dominic Fletcher and Jax Biggers, the Nos. 3 through 5 hitters, looming. A wild pitch during Bonfield’s at bat advanced the runners primed to score from second and third.
They never budged. Young struck out Bonfield, struck out Fletcher and retired Biggers on a harmless foul fly to first.
Arkansas managed runners at second and third again in the seventh and did score one.
Gates doubled between Young striking out Carson Shaddy and Koch. But when Young’s pitch hit Arledge, Guttin pulled him for lefty Knutson to turn around switch hitter Eric Cole from left to right with the left-handed hitting Spanberger on deck.
Relieving in all four of the Bears’ Fayetteville Regional games, Knutson uncorked a wild pitch scoring Shaddy and advancing Koch. But thanks to first baseman Paulsen’s nice snag of catcher Drew Millas’ throw to the second base side of first, Cole was retired on his dribbler not far from home.
Missouri State right fielder Jack Duffy made a great catch on Biggers’ sinking liner opening Arkansas’ 1-2-3 ninth and a trip to Fort Worth against victorious Fort Worth regional host TCU for best 2 out of 3 Super Regional determining who advances among the Elite Eight to play in the College World Series.
Arkansas won the 2015 Super Regional final 3-2 over the same Bears that won 3-2 Monday night.
“There’s nothing else I’d like to happen more,” Knutson, a member of that 2015 Bears team, said. “To end their season with a 3-2 win is sweet.”