MANHATTAN, Kan – An Arkansas season that began with such promise as the nation's No. 1 team ended with a resounding thud on Sunday night.
Or more accurately, it ended about the time the Razorbacks threw a run-scoring wild pitch on an intentional walk in the seventh inning.
In fact, two run-scoring wild pitches by reliever Jalen Beeks to consecutive batters both scored runs and lifted top seed Kansas State over Arkansas 4-3 before 2,661 fans in the NCAA Manhattan Regional at Tointon Family Stadium.
The Razorbacks (39-22), who pounded out 13 hits while beating Bryant 12-3 earlier in the day, wasted a 3-0 lead they grabbed in the opening inning in a game where they were trying to force a winner-take-all game on Monday.
"We're disappointed," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "We played extremely hard all day. We've been here for a long time. I've told our players that they need to keep their head up. We got off to a bad start on Friday (with a 4-1 loss to Bryant) and they could've checked it in.
"We've struggled a little bit offensively this year," Van Horn added. "Thinking about trying to win four games in a row can be a little bit overwhelming. They didn't panic. Came out and played well yesterday (in a 3-1 win over Wichita State) and came out and played well really all day to day."
Kansas State (46-17) added to its school-record for wins and now travels to face Oregon State in the Super Regional next weekend.
"That was just a great game against a great team," Kansas State head coach Brad Hill said. "Once you get down 3-0 in the first, you are very concerned about whether you are going to be able to get back into it and if you are going to be able to hold them at three. I just felt like if they got five or six, it was going to be very difficult against that club.
"But I should have learned by now after 61 or 62 games to not count these guys out ever," Hill added. "They have just done a tremendous job all year of just playing the game and continuing to do what you do. Their tenacity, perseverence and resiliency to just keep playing the game and just see what comes."
Neither coach had been part of a wild pitch that scored a run on an intentional walk.
"I haven't had one," Van Horn said. "Well now I have. I've heard about them in big-game situations. You see one every now and then in the big leagues. It happens. It caught us all off guard.
"I mean, Jalen, I don't know what happened," Van Horn added. "He just lost control of the baseball. It was probably a one in a thousand thing that's ever going to happen. He didn't lose the game for us. It just happened."
Hill knew his team got lucky, but pointed out it had runners on to make it an important wild pitch.
"Some times you have just got to be lucky," Hill said. "We were a little lucky tonight. It is what it is, but again at the same time, you have to have a reason to have intentional walks and it is because you put guys on base. We really put ourselves in position for something to happen like that. We were fortunate. It worked out in our favor and we will take it."
Arkansas lost despite outhitting the vaunted Kansas State offense 8-7 on a day where the Razorbacks scored 15 runs on 21 hits in the two games.
Kansas State's Ross Kivett was named the MVP and joined five teammates on the all-tournament team - relief pitcher Gerado Esqival, catcher Blair DeBoard, first baseman Shane Conlon and outfielders Witt and Jared King.
Pitcher Ryne Stanek, shortstop Brett McAfee and outfielder Tyler Spoon were Arkansas players named to the all-tournament team along with Bryant third baseman Kevin Brown and Wichita State designated hitter Johnny Coy.
Arkansas scored in the first inning for the third straight game when it plated a trio of runs against Kansas State starter Blake McFadden.
Joe Serrano reached base for the sixth time in as many trips to the plate on the day with a single and then Dominic Ficociello's liner to right was lost in the sun for a double.
Brian Anderson's two-run single plated Serrano and Ficociello and then Matt Vinson's two-out single chased home Anderson for the 3-0 lead.
Arkansas starter Tyler Wright - who had pitched 18 innings without allowing an earned run this season - then pitched out of a two on, two-out jam in the first and also pitched a 1-2-3 second.
The Razorbacks then had a chance to add to that cushion in the second, but Gerado Esqivel relieved McFadden and got Tyler Spoon to pop up with the bases loaded and two outs.
Esqivel would then pitch four scoreless innings as the Wildcats held the Razorbacks at bay for the rest of the game.
Wright exited when he allowed the first two batters in the top of the third to reach.
But Travis Daniel pitched out of that situation without allowing a run with the aid of a double play on his first pitch.
Kansas State cut it to 3-2 in the fourth on DeBoard's RBI double and Mitch Myers' sacrifice fly, but reliever Brandon Moore escaped further damage when he induced Tanner Whitt to ground out with the bases loaded.
That half-inning was highlighted by a diving play in right center by Spoon, who turned what looked like a bases-loaded, bases-clearing liner in the gap into simply a sacrifice fly.
"They made that great play in right field and you really begin to wonder if it is going to be your night," Hill said, "but it turned out that we were fortunate enough to win that ballgame and again, that is a great team over there."
The score stayed that way until the crazy seventh inning where Kansas State took the lead without the benefit of a hit.
Arkansas' Michaal Gunn - one of six Razorback pitchers in the game - walked Kivett and Witt leading off the seventh and Conlon bunted them up.
Beeks relieved but he threw two wild pitches – one while trying to intentionally walk a batter – to give Kansas State the lead.
Arkansas could not muster a run after that.
"It's disappointing," Anderson said afterwards. "… Really, I think times like these are when you realize who you're playing for and what you're playing for. As hard as it is, that's when you really understand how much the people and the players that you play with really mean to you. It's hard going out this way, but we didn't give up. We gave good effort and that's all you can ask."
Kansas State 4, Arkansas 3
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