MANHATTAN, Kan. - With it's NCAA Regional tournament game right where it wanted Friday night, Arkansas didn't convert and instead whiffed and bunted itself right into the loser's bracket.
Bryant took advantage of the Razorbacks' offensive struggles and plated three eighth-inning runs to down Arkansas 4-1 and win the school's first ever NCAA Tournament game before 2,107 fans at Tointon Family Stadium.
The Razorbacks – who were outhit 11-3 - plated just one run after loading the bases with one out in the fifth and then bunted its way right out of a promising situation in the sixth.
"First of all credit to Bryant," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "They did a good job, especially putting together that rally in the eighth. Their pitchers all did a great job and their bullpen came in and got it done.
"On our side, we just didn't do a very good job at all in a lot of phases of the game," Van Horn added. "Especially sacrifice bunting. We bunted two balls that were eye high, popped them up. We did probably even a worse job of driving in runs. We had a chance to blow that that thing open in the fifth and we had two strikeouts in a row with the bases loaded and no outs, which was really disappointing.
"We didn't deserve to win the game," Van Horn continued. "We really didn't...The fifth inning was the killer for us."
Arkansas (37-21), who became the fifth of five non-hosting SEC teams to lose in the opening round, now must win four straight games to get out of the regional.
It will begin that quest – something it had to to last season on its way to a College World Series berth – with a 2 p.m game Saturday televised by ESPNU against Wichita State (39-27), who lost 20-11 to Kansas State earlier Friday.
"This is definitely not a spot we thought we would be in," Ficociello said. "It is not the spot we want to be in, but it is our only option. We have been here before. We have a lot of guys who returned, including myself, from last year at Baylor where we lost the first game and got beat up pretty bad. We had to be resilient and came back to win it. I know the guys on on this team, myself included, know we can do it."
Van Horn is happy Arkansas will be right back out on the field.
"I would much rather do that than sitting around all day thinking about the loss," Van Horn said.
Bryant (45-16-1) moves on to face Kansas State at 7 p.m on Saturday.
"I am really pleased with our guys that played a great game," Bryant head coach Steve Owens said. "We got 11 hits against elite pitching. We got a few clutch hits and I thought we pitched it really well. It was a very complete effort by our guys and I am pleased that we were able to perform well and play nine innings of complete baseball."
Owens was pleased with the atmosphere well in their first taste of NCAA play, but didn't know that Kansas State fans – obviously not wanting to face Arkansas ace Ryne Stanek on Saturday – were rooting for his team.
"We have 38 people here, which means we turned back 162 tickets," Owens said. "But I really didn't pay attention to the crowd. I have been to Arkansas before for a Regional so I know that 10,500 people can roll out of the parking lot and provide a great atmosphere, but I was not focused on the crowd at all. I was focused on the ballgame."
The loss marred a fantastic effort by Arkansas starter Barrett Astin, who allowed just an unearned run while fanning seven and allowing seven hits in seven innings.
Bryant got to reliever and loser Jalen Beeks for three runs in the eighth as soon as Astin exited after 94 pitches, 64 of which were strikes.
"It's been very frustrating," Van Horn said. "We get great outings from Barrett, but we don't go out and score for him. A lot of times he gets no decisions. I think his record is 4-4 on the year, but he could easily have eight, nine or 10 wins. He is always going up against somebody else's number one guy and matching them pitch for pitch, just like today."
Arkansas has only scored a total of 18 runs in Astin's last nine starts.
"It is pretty frustrating," Astin said. "As a pitcher going out there on Friday nights, it's something that I don't worry about. I can only do my job and let the hitters do their job. It is the way I took it all year. If we win, we win and if we lose, we lose. It is something I do not worry about and I have to just do my job."
Arkansas loaded the bases against Bryant starter Peter Kelich in the fifth when Dominic Ficociello bunted, Jacob Mahan singled and Brett McAfee was hit by a pitch.
Jake Wise induced a bases-loaded walk to give the Razorbacks a 1-0 lead, but then Kelich fanned bith Jordan Farris and Matt Vinson.
Joe Serrano then grounded into a fielder's choice to end the frame on the last pitch of the game from Kelich, who allowed one run on two hits while walking one and fanning six.
"I thought it was the turning point of the game," Kelich said. "When you get into those situations, you try to slow down as much as possible, just go pitch for pitch and not worry too much about the outcome. I think that was pretty big. It got the momentum back on our side. I would rather have not walked in that one run, but I will take it."
After Bryant tied it 1-1 on an unearned run in the sixth, Arkansas had another chance to get itself a cushion.
Spoon singled and Anderson walked against reliever Trevor Lacosse to bring Ficociello to the plate. He had nearly hit one out of the park in the second inning and also had the aforementioned double in the fifth.
Van Horn called for a sacrifice bunt against reliever and eventual winner Salvatore Lisanti, one that Ficocillo fouled out in foul territory and that Bryant catcher Jonathan Brown fired down to second to double off Spoon.
"It was a pitch about chin high and a pitch that we are taught never to try and bunt – to even think about bunting," Ficociello said. "...I was trying to bunt for a hit. More than anything, it was suppose to be a sacrifice...In my opinion it was the turning point of the game. It destroyed our chances that inning as far as I am concerned. It will set us back and Byrant took advantage of it the next couple of innings."
Asked if he regretted not letting Ficociello hit away, Van Horn noted the situation called for the bunt and it would have brought up Mahan – who had singled in the fifth – with a chance to put the lead to 3-1 with a single.
"It is kind of the situation with the way it goes with this offense right now," Van Horn said. "It's a tough call. He hits into a double play and I should have bunted him. Bottom line just get the bunt down and we'll go from there and let the next guy do his job."
Wise also bunted into an out to the catcher Brown after McAfee had led off the bottom of the seventh by getting hit with a pitch for the second time in the game.
"I definitely thought those (bunts) were the turning points for us in the game," Brown said. "It was kind of lucky that we got those two bunt pop ups," Brown said.
Bryant 4, Arkansas 1
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