THIS PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS
FAYETTEVILLE -- College baseball in Fayetteville is a unique experience. From the gorgeous double-deck stadium to the large and lively crowds to the beer and barbecue in the Hog Pen beyond the left-field fence, the Arkansas Razorbacks put on a show. And did we mention the scantily clad dancers on top of the dugouts? Despite all the action off the field, the Razorbacks never forget priority No. 1.
That's the product on the field.
Invariably, that product is a good one, and Monday night was certainly not the exception when Arkansas ended Washington State’s splendid season in a 7-2 romp at the championship game of the Fayetteville Regional.
There will be no Sweet 16 for Ol’ Wazzu this season.
The 23rd-ranked Cougars were seeded second behind the 15th-ranked Razorbacks, and the seeding seemed accurate before, during and after four days in Fayetteville. The Cougars played well; the Razorbacks played better.
“We got beat by a better team. That’s hard to say sometimes,” Cougar coach Donnie Marbut said. “Arkansas is a really good club. We just came up short.”
A Cougar team that kept playing long after most college teams in the country had packed up their bats and balls fought valiantly all season to overcome injuries and a lack of power and speed. Marbut is known for his demanding ways, and he said the Cougars met his demands and then some.
“I’m just really proud of these boys,” Marbut said. “They gave it all they had. “As a coach, all you can ask is if a club gives its best effort, and I thought we did.”
The Cougars played five games in four days in heat and humidity far different than the cold and rain they’ve experienced much of the spring in the Northwest. And yet, on the final day of the season, when only a victory would keep the Cougars’ season alive, Paris Shewey and Connor Lambert gamely took the mound for the fourth consecutive day.
“Mentally, it was fine … but physically, I did get a little tired at the end, especially warming up,” said Lambert, who pitched a scoreless ninth (WSU was designated the home team).
“Paris and me were talking about that. The times you warm up and don’t get to go in there, it’s almost like being out there. Added with this heat, it definitely tires your body out.”
Shewey obviously had little left in the tank, though he had faced just three batters in one-third of an inning of work since pitching two innings of relief in Friday’s opening-night win against Kansas State. The junior left-hander (7-3), who led the Cougars in wins, lasted just 2 1/3 innings in his second start of the season.
The first three Arkansas batters reached base and scored, and the Hogs tacked on three more runs in the third inning. The Razorbacks out-hit WSU 12-6, and if not for three errors in the fourth inning, the Cougars’ scoring might have been limited to Matt Fanelli’s leadoff homer in the second inning. Arkansas left 12 men on base, but offset that by turning three double plays in the first four innings before 7,065 fans.
“Their pitching staff, every time we faced them, they did a really good job of mixing pitches and keeping us off balance,” Fanelli said.
Fanelli, a strapping youngster whose body of work had never been as impressive as his body during his first three seasons at WSU, capped a fine senior season by earning all-tournament honors at designated hitter.
Fanelli was joined on the all-tourney squad by fellow senior Michael Weber, who started at third base the final two days -- after playing first base almost exclusively all season -- to get the left-handed bat of first baseman Ryan Peterson in the lineup. Junior second baseman Cody Bartlett and sophomore right fielder Derek Jones also made all-tournament for Washington State.
The Cougars, who came in third in the Pac-10, finished the year 37-22. WSU loses just five seniors, and No. 1 starting pitcher Chad Arnold is expected to pass up his senior year to turn pro.
Washington State had visions of returning to the College World Series for the first time since 1976. Instead, Arkansas (43-19) advances to play Pac-10 champion Arizona State (50-18), the No. 1 national seed, in the Super Regionals this weekend in Tempe, Ariz. The winner of that best-of-three series heads to the World Series in Omaha.
The Cougars are done for the year, but they won’t soon be forgotten, in part because of their borderline miraculous 20 come-from-behind wins.
“I played with all these guys growing up,” said Arkansas catcher James McCann, who eventually moved from Washington to California. “I know quite a few of them pretty well. They’re a good group of guys.
“Not many people think of Washington State when they think of baseball. Those guys play hard. They play the right way.”
Marbut appreciates the compliment. Almost as much as he appreciates coaching the Cougars.
“I can’t even express in words how proud I am of this club,” Marbut said.
Actually, Coach, you just did.