WACO, Texas — Arkansas had its eyes on the College World Series in the preseason, believing it had the talent to make a legitimate run at the national championship in Dave Van Horn’s 10th season.
The Razorbacks wandered a winding and, at many times, frustrating road through most of the 2012 season. But they’ll be in Omaha, Neb., later this week after beating Baylor 1-0 on Monday night.
Catcher Jake Wise, in his first at-bat, hit an RBI single in the 10th inning to break up a scoreless game and reliever Colby Suggs worked the bottom of the inning to help the Razorbacks win the deciding game of the Waco Super Regional.
It pushed Arkansas (44-20) into the College World Series for the sixth time and ended Baylor’s season one win shy of a school record (49-17).
The Razorbacks will play Kent State in its first game in Omaha at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Razorbacks also are in a four-team bracket with Southeastern Conference foes Florida and South Carolina.
“At this level, 1-0, extra innings to go to Omaha, I don’t know if it gets any better,” Van Horn said. “I know the baseball purists probably love this game. But as a coach it was very stressful and thank goodness it’s over.”
One day after seeing its season salvaged by botched ground ball and two hit batters in the ninth inning of game two, the Hogs endured through another drama-filled night in the super regional final in front of 5,059 in Baylor Ballpark.
Arkansas used five pitchers — including starter Randall Fant — to keep Baylor’s bats in check Monday. The Bears had plenty of chances, loading the bases on two occasions early on.
But the Razorbacks found ways to work out of jams, leaving Baylor to strand 11 runners and hit into two double plays. The Bears could never break through in key situations, two days after clubbing Arkansas 8-1 to take a one-game lead in the series.
“Obviously if we don’t score and they do, we’re not going to win the game,” Baylor catcher Josh Ludy said. “That’s something we weren’t able to do.”
Every ounce of the pitching was needed, considering Arkansas had even more trouble against Baylor starter Tyler Bremer. The senior allowed only three hits in his nine-inning effort, leaving the Razorbacks scrambling to try to score a run.
But it finally changed in the 10th, when freshman Brian Anderson led off with a single off Baylor reliever Dillon Newman (4-4). He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and then, with two outs, Wise hit a single that slipped through the left side of the infield to score Anderson from second.
“The feeling hasn’t set in yet. Words can’t explain how I feel,” said Wise, who came into the game as a defensive replacement for starter John Clay Reeves in the eighth inning. “I didn’t get to start today, but I’m OK with that because I know Reeves can do a great job. … But they called my name, so I went in there and I had a job to do.”
Suggs, who hadn’t pitched in the first two games of the super regional, felt the same when he came out of the bullpen to pitch in the bottom of the ninth. Suggs (7-0) allowed a leadoff single, but got out of the inning to keep the game tied 0-0.
He had another gut-check in the 10th, when Baylor got runners on first and second with two outs.
But he closed the game by striking out Baylor left fielder Dan Evatt. The ball squirted away from Wise, who picked it up and threw down to first for the final out. It triggered a celebration, with players piling on top of each other.
“It’s a feeling you wanted your entire life and you waited for,” Wise said about the deciding win. “I waited 20 years to be in a dog pile and it was probably one of the best feelings of my life.”
Arkansas recorded its eighth shutout in the NCAA Tournament and second this month. The Razorbacks also had a 1-0 win in a pivotal game against Rice in the Houston Regional last week, helping Arkansas advance to play the No. 4 national seed, Baylor.
The Bears — who hit .327 in home games entering the Waco Regional — were shut out for just the fourth time this season. It was the first since May 13, when they suffered a 1-0 loss to Oklahoma.
“What I saw out of them this entire series was pitching and defense,” Baylor coach Steve Smith said of the Hogs. “Their starter Saturday didn’t have his best stuff and we jumped him pretty good. But other than that, they were really, really good on the mound. And really, really good defensively.”
It helped Arkansas rebound from a 1-0 deficit to win a three-game series for the fourth time this season. None was more important than Monday, though, when Arkansas leaned on its strengths to accomplish the preseason goal of reaching Omaha.
“It’s special,” said Van Horn, who will make his third trip with the Razorbacks (2004, 2009). “I’m just really proud of them that they get a chance to go experience the College World Series.”