FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The Arkansas Razorbacks tied an NCAA tournament record by hitting nine home runs Friday afternoon, but Washington State's Cody Bartlett saved the most important home run of the day for the end of the day.
Bartlett, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound second baseman out of Kentwood High School, crushed a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to snap a 6-6 tie in WSU’s 8-6 triumph over Kansas State in a first-round thriller Friday night at the Fayetteville Regional.
“I don’t think you can explain home runs,” Bartlett said after launching his sixth homer of the year. “You get home runs when you get home runs.
“I’ve always been the smallest guy. Ever since I was little, my dad always said, ‘Play big.’
“My favorite movie has always been ‘Rudy’ (the inspiring story of an undersized, walk-on football player at Notre Dame). I just kind of have that mentality. Size isn’t going to beat me.”
The 23rd-ranked Cougars long ago proved they can win in any number of ways, no matter how long it takes. WSU came from behind twice Friday, giving the Cougars 19 come-from-behind wins.
“We might make our coaches pull their hair out at some points,” admitted Matt Fanelli, a senior designated hitter out of Capital High.
Fanelli eased the wear and tear on the coaches’ scalps when he ripped a two-run double down the left-field line in the seventh inning. One out later, Bonney Lake High product Garry Kuykendall – a starter all year before sitting the past two games when left-handed pitchers started – blasted a pinch-hit, RBI triple to right-center to knot the score at 6-6 before a crowd of 2,518.
The unranked Wildcats (36-21) had scored three runs in the top of the seventh to go ahead 6-3.
“We’ve been in this situation so many times – coming from behind – we never lose faith,” Fanelli said.
The late-game heroics made a winner out of River Ridge High graduate Connor Lambert (5-1), who pitched just one-third of an inning before making way for Olympia High grad Adam Conley in the ninth. Conley walked a batter and hit another before he tied Ross Humes’ school record of 12 saves in a season.
Bartlett’s home run was the first yielded all year by star Kansas State closer James Allen (5-1). Allen left a fastball up, and Bartlett sent the ball flying more than 400 feet into the grass picnic area beyond the fence in left-center at steamy Baum Stadium.
“You’re always taught,” Bartlett said, “that home runs are accidental line drives that you get under.”
If that’s true, the 15th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks certainly got under a lot of balls in their 19-7 rout of Grambling (La.) State earlier Friday. The top-seeded Razorbacks (41-18) face the second-seeded Cougars tonight at 5:05 PDT. WSU went 0-4 against Arkansas last year, including a 10-3 loss at regionals.
Upwards of 10,000 Arkansas fans are expected to be on hand. Conley (5-3), who has started and relieved on the same weekend three times since moving into the starting rotation, is scheduled to start on the mound opposite Drew Smyly (8-1). Both are highly regarded sophomore left-handers.
Third-seeded Kansas State and fourth seed Grambling (23-31) play in a loser-out game at 12:05. All games are videostreamed live with audio for free at www.arkansasrazorbacks.com.
The Cougars recorded their 19th come-from-behind win of the season. It was the sixth time WSU has trailed twice in a game and won, its seventh win in its final at-bat. … Conley made his 28th appearance of the season, tied for third all-time at WSU, and his 13th career save is tied for third all-time at WSU. … Paris Shewey made his 27th appearance of the season, tied for fifth all-time at WSU. … The Cougars bullpen registered its 18th win of the season, one shy of the school record set in 1987. … WSU’s 19th save is second in school history (23 in 1978).