Tuesday, June 09, 2009

SPORTS >> Hogs get help from no-names to reach CWS

Nate Allen Media Services

FAYETTEVILLE — Here is what could have been said earlier in the season about Andrew Darr, T.J. Forrest, Drew Smyly, Mike Bolsinger, Jarod McKinney and Brett Eibner: “Yeah, they helped the Hogs get off to a hot start but they were second-rate in mid-May when Arkansas lost eight straight.”

And here is what could have been said earlier about Bo Bigham, the freshman second baseman from Texarkana: “Promising little infielder but should have been redshirted instead of being buried behind senior second baseman Ben Tschepikow.”

Well, here is what you can say about them now: “They not only are part of the College World Series-bound Arkansas
Razorbacks, they’re a big part of what got them there.”

In wins over Washington State and Oklahoma at the Norman Regional and again in the pair of wins over Florida State last weekend in the Super Regional, the names Darr, Forrest, Smyly, Bolsinger and Eibner figured prominently.

Other than his big series against Arizona State, not much had been heard from Darr, the senior utility outfielder, since he opened the season in February with a game-winning home run against Washington State.

The college baseball world sure saw and heard about him last Saturday. His two-run double in the ninth helped the Hogs overcome Florida State, 9-8, and propelled them to Omaha.

On more than just a hunch, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn started Darr in the outfield in Saturday’s clincher. Darr responded by going 4 for 5 with three RBI, including, of course, the game-winner.

“Andrew has been swinging the bat really well in batting practice,” Van Horn told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Rick Fires.

“Sometimes these kids think I don’t notice things when they are playing, but I’m watching everything.”

Sophomore pitcher-center fielder Eibner made a great, fence-crashing catch that helped beat Florida State last Friday, and freshman McKinney in Norman made a great catch that staved off Washington State before the Hogs erupted for a nine-run eighth inning.

Middleman/closer Bolsinger was a bell cow for much of the season but struggled — as did about everybody — when the Hogs lost eight straight SEC games in mid May.

Bolsinger bounced back to win in Norman and then, in Friday’s weather-delayed triumph over FSU, pitched the final five shutout innings. He went the remaining distance after lengthy rain delays stiffened Arkansas starter Dallas Keuchel.

Forrest and Smyly began the season following Keuchel in the SEC weekend rotation. By the end of the SEC season both were struggling, grab-bag, third-game options behind Keuchel and Eibner.

Yet on May 31 in Norman, Smyly pitched 8 1/3 innings of no-hit ball before finally giving up a hit in the 11-0 rout of Oklahoma.

Last Saturday in Tallahassee, with the Hogs down 5-1, Forrest came out of the pen to throw a crucial 2 2/3 scoreless innings while Arkansas came back to lead 7-5.

As for Bigham, since now-designated hitter Scott Lyons was too injured to play shortstop and Tschepikow was moved to short, he’s been the second baseman who made both the All-Tournament teams in the SEC Tournament and Norman Regionals and went 3 for 4 last Saturday against FSU.

In a sport with all the ups and downs of baseball’s long season, no team excels without fallen no-names carving out big names in big games.

The no-names certainly impressed one big name, FSU 30-year College Hall of Fame coach Mike Martin.

“Arkansas has an exceptional club,” Martin said. “And I mean that. They can win the College World Series just as easily as anyone else.”