Dream Denied

Arkansas (39-22) started the season as the No. 1 team in the country and with a dream of a return trip to the College World Series, but that dream ended in strange way in Manhattan, Kansas.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn made it clear from day one what the goal was with his 2013 baseball team – a return trip to the College World Series.

So when his team fell 4-3 to Kansas State Sunday night to end any hope of that dream, he didn't try to hide his disappointment in coach speak.

"Again, I'm proud of the team," Van Horn said. "(But) disappointed we're not going to the College World Series because that was our goal. When you set out, that's your goal and you think you have a chance to get there realistically and I did. It's disappointing. But I'm not disappointed with the effort.

"It's been a tough year as far as we had to battle," Van Horn added. "We had to battle for everything we got in league play. It's been a grind. I'm just proud of the coaches for hanging in there, and players for hanging in there. Our fans for hanging in there. We'll start working on next year."

Arkansas (39-22) - which gave up the final two runs of the game on wild pitches - won't know the exact make up of its team until after this week's Major League Draft and it sees which juniors sign or return.

But he does know he will take a hit with his front line pitching with all three weekend starters not expected back.

Ace Ryne Stanek (10-2, 1.39) will almost certainly hear his name called in the first 10 picks when the draft starts on Thursday while fellow junior Barrett Astin (4-4, 1.79) is expected to be drafted and senior Randall Fant (6-1, 2.03) has exhausted his eligibility.

Those three headed up a staff that led the nation in ERA at 1.82 during the regular season.

"They were a tight group," Van Horn said. "I will remember each of them individually in a different way, but as a group it will be the camaraderie and the depth of the staff – right and left-handed pitching, the velocity, movement and just the way they competed with each other to get on the field.

"We got a couple of guys that didn't even pitch tonight that are 92, 93 mile per hour righthanders," Van Horn noted. "They are young and their time is coming and next year they are going to have to be the guys. It is just a battle within that group to get on the field.

"I like the way they didn't seem selfish at all to me and they weren't upset if they were getting the time," Van Horn continued. "They just pulled for each other all the time. I appreciate that and I think (pitching) Coach (Dave) Jorn did a great job with them and instill in them it is about the team and not them individually. But also individually getting them to work hard and be the best player they can be. I hope we can put another one of these together."

Arkansas sophomore designated hitter/outfielder Joe Serrano – who at one point in the tournament had reached base eight straight times – was proud of the way his team rallied with two wins after losing to Bryant 4-1 on Friday night.

The Razorbacks rebounded at the plate in the final three games with 33 hits after having just three in the opening game and played 18 innings on Sunday.

"After losing that first game and battling back, we just kind of realized we were playing for this family," Serrano said. "It was our team. We didn't want to lose our team. Obviously you're excited for the guys that are going to get the opportunity to play pro ball, but then selfishly you want them to stay.

"And it's just hard seeing guys go out like we did," Serrano said. "We were on balls left and right, just right on the money and they just weren't dropping. You can't ask for us to hit the ball harder than we did. Sometimes it rolls your way. Sometimes it doesn't. Kansas State played a great game. We fought, we fought. We've been out here forever. We just wanted to win, but it just didn't roll our way."

The Razorbacks know they will have three solid hitters back with left fielder Brian Anderson (.325, 4 homers, 36 RBIs), Serrano (.295, 1 homer, 18 RBIs) and right fielder Tyler Spoon (.288, 4 homers, 49 RBIs).

Also back are two hitters who came alive at the end of the season in shortstop Brett McAfee (.263, 1 homer, 18 RBIs) and Eric Fisher, who had six hits in the final three games of the season.

The Razorbacks have signed a large group of pitchers and some players that could be impact hitters such as Ohio prep standout Andrew Benintendi, the state's Gatorade Player of the Year who hit .542 in his career and had 213 hits in four years.

Among the top returning pitchers are Colin Poche, Trey Killian, Jalen Beeks, Michael Gunn, Chris Oliver and Landon Simpson.

"We'll see how this draft plays itself out, but we have a chance to be better offensively next season and we have some arms that could step in and do the job," Van Horn said on Thursday. "We will always go into the season with the expectations of being very good."

Dave Van Horn

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