HOOVER, Ala. - Arkansas freshman pitcher Ryne Stanek showed Friday afternoon just why the Seattle Mariners made him a third-round pick in last season's MLB draft.
Stanek – the 99th selection overall – pitched one-run baseball into the eighth and the Razorbacks went on to down Alabama 4-1 in an elimination game at the SEC Tournament.
Kyle Robinson powered the Razorback offense with a homer, an RBI single and two runs scored while Stanek (3-2) fanned five, walked three and allowed just two hits over a career-best 7 2/3 innings while tossing 99 pitches.
"I thought we played extremely well," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "Ryne Stanek probably threw his best game of the year and it was a good time for it. He had one inning where he had to battle but pitched threw it. I thought Trent Daniel came in and closed it down well. It was a good win for us."
Van Horn chose Stanek over Cade Lynch for the starting nod on Friday.
"We didn't want to throw a left-hander against them today," Van Horn said. "Each time we did against Alabama, they killed us. I told (pitching) Coach (Dave) Jorn last night I wanted to go with a righty and deal with whatever he gave us. We went with a lefty in the first game, but the righty was the right move."
Daniel got the final four outs – ending the game with his only strikeout and not allowing a hit – as Arkansas (38-19) moved into Saturday's semifinal round action.
The Razorbacks will play Vanderbilt Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. with Lynch starting and need to beat the Commodores twice to advance to Sunday's title game.
They could have been been headed back if Stanek hadn't tossed his gem.
"I felt a little pressure, but I tried not to think about that too much," Stanek said. "I wanted to do better than my last performance and put the team in a position to win."
Stanek came in as a very heralded hurler, but had been inconsistent this season. He was starting his 11th game and making his 14th appearance of the season.
In that time, Stanek had a 4.75 ERA in 47 1/3 innings and had allowed 42 hits, fanned 30, walked 22 and 25 earned runs in his appearances.
But he was on from the first batter on Friday getting Alabama - who had jumped on Razorback starter Randall Fant for five first-inning runs on Wednesday - to go 1-2-3 in their first at-bat on Friday.
"I just stayed in control this time around," Stanek said. "I was rushing everything last time, but you have to have a short memory and be able to put that behind you. Obviously, this builds confidence, but I can't let the bad games hurt me."
He had eight different first-pitch outs during his stint on the mound.
Robinson, who was benched for Wednesday's game, had his second straight two-hit day as did freshman Razorback Dominick Ficociello.
"Kyle (Robinson) struggled all year in league play," Van Horn said. " Sometimes you have to just sit down and slow the game down. That's what he did. His batting practice has been a lot better. He's more focused. Sometimes when you play so many games, you get into a rut. The home run he hit was the biggest swing of the day. They had just scored, but we took the momentum right back with that home run."
Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard thought his team looked tired on a day when he sent hybrid starter/closer Jonathan Smart to the mound.
Smart gave up six of Arkansas' seven hits, fanned four, walked one and gave up three runs in six innings of work.
"Stanek was outstanding today," Gaspard said. "Offensively, we just had no rhythm, didn't do a very good job. I thought our energy level was not where I would like to have it. It was kind of low. Smart battled and kept us out there with a chance to make a run at it. We just weren't able to do it offensively. Stanek did a good job."
Gaspard noted that being drafted that high means something.
"We didn't have a lot of tape or anything on him, but obviously we knew he had a big arm," Gaspard said. "We knew he had turned down a lot of money in the draft. I wasn't expecting his command to be what it was. I knew it was going to be a live arm and it was. They said he threw three pitches for strikes. A couple of good guys, real experienced hitters came back early in the game and said, ‘This guy's really good, he's got really good stuff.'
"I'm sure Dave and their group's got to be real excited about that as they move into next week," Gaspard added. "That's a real bullet you've got now, as you move forward."
Ficociello's RBI single in the opening inning got Arkansas up 1-0 when it drove home Collin Kuhn, who had reached on a fielder's choice and stole second.
Kuhn's grounder was thrown wide at second and that kept it from being turned into a double play.
"We got the guy on second, so we got the lead runner," Smart said. "I feel like the first hitter up I was trying to throw a little too much but I got it down after that. Tough luck that first inning, (they) got a couple infield hits and just kind of bounced back from that."
Alabama tied it 1-1 in the fourth when Jarred Reeves doubled and Austen Smith singled him home.
Stanek bowed up and fanned the last two batters to leave a pair of Crimson Tide runners stranded.
"He was really throwing three pitches for strikes," Alabama's Brock Bennett said of Stanek. "We really just couldn't get it going. I was really pumped about that big hit, but other than that no one, myself included, could come up with anything."
Robinson then gave the Razorbacks the lead back when he led of the bottom of the fourth with a solo blast way over the left field fence for a 2-1 advantage.
His sxith-inning single then chased Ficociello home to put Arkansas up 3-1.
Robinson capped his day with a eighth-inning walk and rode home on Matt Vinson's RBI double that made it 4-1.
"Ryne (Stanek) was throwing strikes and Kyle was hitting the ball well," Ficociello said. "We wanted to jump out with the lead like they did in the first game. It was good for us to keep going, keep putting it on and worked for us."
Kyle Robinson tips his cap to his teammates and Razorback fans after launching a solo blast.
Arkansas 4, Alabama 1
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