BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

STILLWATER, Okla. – It seems appropriate that the wildly entertaining Arkansas-Oklahoma State three-day, three-game saga had a pivotal point late Monday night with Roc Riggio in the batter’s box.

Riggio, an exuberant, energetic and flamboyant Cowboy freshman with a blond mane, had fired up both fan bases with his remarkable play and antics during games Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Entering Monday night’s winner-take-all contests, he was hitting .540 with four home runs and 16 RBIs with one Shakespearian strut before rounding third that riled Razorback faithful.

Riggio was poised be the hero and certainly snatch the Stillwater Regional MVP and his team a Super Regional berth when he sauntered to plate with the bases loaded, two out Arkansas clinging to a 5-3 lead in the top of the eighth.

But he would not win the battle this time as Arkansas freshman pitcher Hagen Smith fired strike three past him and left Riggio literally on a knee after spinning in the dirt at the plate.

Smith, who lasted just 1 2/3 innings as starter in Saturday’s 20-12 Arkansas win, let out a gutteral scream into the night after the whiff that might have been heard in his hometown of Bullard, Texas.

He then finished off the Cowboys in the ninth to punch a ticket for Arkansa (42-19) to play a Super Regional match up this weekend at North Carolina (42-20), which has won 11 of its last 12 games, 18 of 21 and staved off three elimination games to win its regional.

“Just an amazing, amazing job by Hagen in that tough situation with all that was on the line for our team,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “It was unbelievable. I thought it was unbelievable.”

Arkansas did have to get Smith, who threw seven no-hitters as a senior in high school, calmed down before he could handle the ninth.

“To get out those good hitters, we need that stuff on the mound, and once he got it together, and he struck out 9-hole, 1-hole, our team was jacked,” Van Horn said. “And so was he. We had to calm him down, because the game wasn’t over. Just an incredible job (overall) by our pitching staff.”

Riggio, who was 2 of 5 on Monday night with an RBI double, gave credit to Smith, who fanned four, walked one and did not allow a hit in his 1 2/3 inning stint.

“I think Smith stepped up for his team,” Riggio said. “He did what anyone would do in that situation – stepped up and put it on the line for his team. He did a really good job of that.”

Oklahoma State head coach Josh Holliday, whose team downed the Razorbacks 14-10 Sunday night to force the deciding game, lauded the four Arkansas pitchers that took the mound in the game.

Arkansas started Zach Morris with Kole Ramage, Zebulon Vermillion and Smith combining to keep the vaunted Oklahoma State offensive attack down to nine hits, only two of which were for extra bases.

“They did a nice job, sir,” Holliday said. “They mixed their pitches well and they showed us some different looks. The young man at the end made some big pitches with the game on the line. Compliments to him.”

It came a day after the Cowboys (42-22) had scored 43 runs to stave off elimination in two games – a 29-15 win over Missouri State and the victory over the Razorbacks.

Arkansas and Oklahoma State had scored a combined 56 runs in their first two contests.

“Yeah, well, it was a different game today for sure and the setting was a little different, ” Holliday said. “A little warmer, a little less wind and a really fine collection of athletes on the field for both sides.”

Arkansas catcher Michael Turner, named the Regional MVP, was hyped about Smith’s performance.

Turner slowly walked back to home plate when Smith entered the game.

“If there was going to be a freshman out there to do it, it was going to be him,” Turner said. “I thought he handled it really well.

“I tried to walk to home plate, give him a second to catch his breath and kind of take in the moment, and he settled in and did what we need him to do.”

Turner, Jalen Battles and freshman Stovall had six of Arkansas’ seven hits on the night with Stovall having a pair of clutch two-out RBI singles that pushed his team to a 5-1 edge.

“I think he’s really swinging the bat a lot better, swinging at better pitches,” Van Horn said of Stovall. “Those were huge, huge RBIs. That fifth run was big for us. And I think Michael was sitting right next to me or standing next to me when he got that hit and lined it up the middle with two strikes, and you were pretty excited about it.”

Turner essentially put the game away with a two-run double in the ninth.

“Hard-fought game, congratulations to Arkansas,” Holliday said. “They did a nice job and got some big two-out hits and then continue to score throughout the game, which was probably a pretty big momentum shift there late to get those extra two runs. They have got a good ball club and wish them luck as they move ahead.”

Arkansas will find out Tuesday if it will open play Friday or Saturday at North Carolina, who was 15-15 in the ACC this season.

The Razorbacks had lost four in a row and six of eight heading into the regional, but seem to have righted the ship.

“I’m excited for the team because, you know, we get to keep playing together,” Van Horn said. “I feel like in the last two weeks, the team’s gotten closer than it’s been all year. You can feel it, you can see it, and they don’t want to lose. They want to keep playing.”

Van Horn shared what he knows about the Tar Heels, who fought out of losers’ bracket and downed VCU twice to win its regional.

“Yeah, I mean, preseason they were up there pretty good,” Van Horn said. “Like all of us, they had a little rough patch in there and then they fought back out of it. They’re just really solid.

“…They have a beautiful ballpark. It’s about 10 years old, new and really nice setting. Beautiful campus. I’ve been on the campus. I’ve never played a game there. I’ve never played North Carolina in all my years, believe it or not. I can’t remember ever playing them.”