June 6, 2009

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Darr Delivers as Arkansas Advances to Omaha

By Paul Thomas

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com


Paul Thomas is a junior at Florida State who began covering FSU athletics in November and has covered the baseball team all season for The Osceola and Warchant.com.


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - For the first time since 2004, the Arkansas Razorbacks are going to the College World Series. Arkansas, which is yet to lose in tournament play, defeated Florida State 9-8. But the Razorbacks didn’t do it without drama.


After watching FSU (45-18) take a one-run lead with three runs in the top of the ninth, the Razorbacks (39-22) won on a two-run walk-off double from Andrew Darr. The senior was the offensive star for Arkansas, going 4 for 5 with a home run, two doubles and three RBI.


“I’m at a loss for words right now to be honest,” Darr said “Just a great feeling for the entire team after having a tough top of the ninth. Then we just fought and found a way to get back in it and the rest is history.”


Trailing 7-5 with a runner on first and two outs in the top of the ninth, FSU’s Tyler Holt was down to his last strike with a 1-2 count. Holt doubled down the right-field line to put the two tying runs in scoring position. Stephen Cardullo then battled for a two-run single with a 2-2 count and advanced to second on the throw home. Jason Stidham then followed suit with a RBI single to give the Seminoles an 8-7 lead heading to the bottom of the ninth.


“I worked myself into a 2-2 count, got mostly sliders,” Cardullo said “I think I saw three or four in that at-bat, so when he threw it that last time I’d seen it enough to put a good swing on it.”


In the bottom of the ninth, FSU pitcher Jack Posey got Andy Wilkins (right) to pop up to first to beginning the inning. Then Bo Bigham walked on a full count, and Zack Cox followed that up with a single. With runners on first and second and one out, Darr hit a deep line drive to the gap in left-center. Leftfielder Mike McGee tried to relay the ball to Cardullo, but by the time Cardullo turned to relay the ball, Cox already had scored the winning run to send the Razorbacks to Omaha.


“Bo Bigham’s at-bat was just a 21-year-old at-bat right there,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He battled, battled and battled, finally drew a walk, got a big hit and then Andrew hit the double before I really even knew what happened to be honest with you. I saw a breaking ball, ball shooting into the alley and I was just hoping Zack could get there.”


In the fifth inning, the Seminoles jumped out to a four-run lead. Holt got things going after back-to-back singles, driving in Mike Meschke on a double to center. After a RBI ground out from Cardullo, McGee hit his 19th home run of the season to put the ’Noles up 5-1.


Florida State looked to be in control, thanks in large part to a good outing from starter Brian Busch, who gave up just two runs (each solo home runs) in six innings, walking just one and striking out eight.


“Didn’t [Brian Busch] look great?” FSU coach Mike Martin said. “It was so encouraging to see him get out there and battle against a very good club. He just showed what he’s all about. He made quality pitches when he needed to make them.”


Darr chased Busch from the game with a long home run to begin the seventh inning. With Busch gone, the bullpen continued its struggles from Friday. Relievers Geoff Parker, John Gast and Jimmy Marshall gave up five runs on two hits and three walks. Gast looked to have gotten out of the inning, but an error by Stuart Tapley allowed two runs to score. The inning ended with Arkansas leading 6-5.


In the eighth, the bullpen struggled to find the strike zone again. After giving up a leadoff double to Darr, Marshall walked two more to load the bases with just one out. Mark Peterson entered and walked in a run to put the Razorbacks up two. Posey replaced Peterson and got DH Scott Lyons to ground into an inning-ending double play.


“It’s a game that we have played and sometimes you just have a bad outing,” Martin said “Unfortunately there were some things that happened today that were unfortunate. I will not say one critical word about this baseball team because to go back and dwell... like I told the guys – the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and we are going to move on. We will use a lot of what we learned this year to try and get better next year.”


For Arkansas, the next step will be in Omaha. The Razorbacks will take on Cal State Fullerton in the first round. The last time the Razorbacks went to the College World Series, it also was after a two-game sweep of Florida State.


“We’re going to Omaha, I’m pretty excited to say those words,” Wilkins said. “It’s pretty unbelievable. The whole team just fought and fought and fought the whole year. We went through some pretty tough times and it’s really paying off now.”


(photo by Jimmy Jones)