MANHATTAN, Kan. - Arkansas pitching ace Ryne Stanek made sure his team would live to play at least one more day.
Stanek pitched two-hit ball into the eighth inning and Tyler Spoon's two-run single in the opening frame gave the Razorbacks all the runs they would need in a 3-1 win over Wichita State Saturday afternoon in an NCAA Tournament elimination game.
"It's big (to win)," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "It would have been hugely disappointing to go 0-2 here. For us to get to tomorrow, anything can happen."
The Razorbacks (38-21) – who would still need three wins to advance to the Super Regionals - move to to a Sunday 2 p.m. game against Bryant, which lost 7-1 to Kansas State on Saturday.
Randall Fant (5-1, 1.92) will pitch for Arkansas and a win would mean a Sunday 7 p.m. game against Kansas State in an effort to force a Monday night championship game.
"We feel like whoever loses this game tonight, a lot of times they get down a little bit and if we could get on them early tomorrow and get through that game anything could happen tomorrow night," Van Horn said.
Arkansas – which had just three hits in Friday's 4-1 loss to Bryant in what Van Horn called his team's worst game of the year – had 12 hits on Saturday with half of those coming from the bottom three batters in the lineup.
Jacob Mahan, Jake Wise and Brett McAfee all were 2-of-4 at the plate – ironically on a day when Van Horn switched up the top of the lineup.
"All the coaches sit in my room for an hour after the game last night trying to figure out how we can put together a lineup that scores some runs and change the order a little bit," Van Horn said. "Basically the other two coaches left and said 'good luck.'
"We changed the lineup, just trying to mix it up and go with guys I thought were swinging it a little better and maybe we'll shuffle it again tomorrow. The thing I thought was good about our lineup today was the bottom of the order got it done for us."
Wichita State head coach Gene Stephenson, whose team lost 20-11 to Kansas State in the regional opener, was obviously disappointed in his team's ouster.
"We are all disappointed, but we were defeated by a pretty good team," Stephenson said. "(Arkansas) executed a lot of good things and most importantly, they have a lot of good arms."
Stanek threw 113 pitches against the Shockers (39-28) while giving up just two hits, fanning three and allowing his first earned run since May 4th – a span of 26 1/3 innings.
He did walk a season-high six, but pitched around all of those in keeping his team's season alive in what might be his final start as a Razorback since he is projected as a top 10 pick in next week's MLB draft.
"He will tell you – and we have said this a few times – he did not have his best stuff," Van Horn said. "He had a good fastball, but he does not usually walk that many.
"...He has done a a great job all year of getting out of jams," Van Horn added. "That is kind of his thing. We leave him in a lot longer than we do other guys because he finds a way. That is what the good ones do. They get into a jam and they find a way to get out. It is a credit to him and his experience over the last couple of years."
Stanek's only true mistake was a fourth-inning pitch that he left up and Casey Gillaspie blasted out of the park, his 11th homer of the season to cut the Razorbacks lead to 2-1.
"To walk six is not very good," Stanek said. "It is not something that I would ever like to do again...I was able to work out some issues early and a couple late, which was good for me. I am just glad we got the win."
Van Horn pulled Stanek after his sixth walk, a one-out pass in the eighth inning. He brought in sophomore lefthander Michael Gunn.
Gunn needed just four pitches – and a successful pick off throw to first – to get the ball to closer Colby Suggs for the ninth.
Suggs picked up his school-record 13th save with a 1-2-3 ninth.
"He's been lights out for awhile now," Van Horn said. "The last five or six outings he has been really good. I am happy for him and his name will be in the record books until the next guy gets it."
After suffering through a Friday night of offensive futility, Arkansas shuffled the batting order on Saturday.
That resulted in getting some confidence early on Saturday against Wichita State starting pitcher and loser A.J. Ladwig (5-6).
Joe Serrano reached on an error to lead off the game and moved up on Dominic Ficociello's walk and Brian Anderson's swinging bunt that put two runners in scoring position for Spoon.
The freshman from Van Buren then delivered a single to chase home both base runners for a 2-0 lead.
"I got two strikes, but kept battling," Spoon said. "He kept throwing good sliders away. I kept battling and he finally left one up and I was able to take advantage of it and lined it into center. Finally got some momentum at the plate offensively and got some runs for Stanek. He basically takes care of the rest."
It was a welcome sight for Van Horn.
"The way we lost yesterday, we didn't do anything offensively," Van Horn said. "We left runner after runner out there and it was so disappointing and did not play well. It was just a bad game.
"But to come out today and get the 2-0 lead was big," Van Horn said. "They made a mistake that opened the door for us and we took advantage of it and we held it."
It looked like Brian Anderson might have drilled one in the gap to score two runs in the fifth, but Wichita State center fielder Micha Green ran it down.
"I thought the center fielder made an incredible catch out in center field and kept them in the game," Van Horn said. "We were about to break it open and it would have given us a four-run lead, but he just did a super job."
The Razorbacks did push that to 3-1 in the seventh when Mahan singled, Wise's hit and run single moved him to third and McAfee's single drove him home.
"I just felt like we were in control," Van Horn said. "Even though we just had a two-run lead, I thought we were in control because our bullpen was pretty fresh and it seemed like Stanek got it going in the middle innings."
Arkansas had the nation's top ERA this season and will have plenty of arms if needed to battle through Sunday.
"If we have a chance to win this thing, we have got to get to Monday," Van Horn said. "We have to win two games tomorrow and it is going to take a lot of pitching to do that."
Arkansas 3, Wichita State 1
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