MANHATTAN, Kan. — Arkansas will finally get its chance to play top-seeded Kansas State in the Manhattan (Kan.) Regional.
The Razorbacks advanced to the regional final by battering Bryant 12-3 in an elimination game Sunday. Arkansas scored three runs in the first, got four in the third and five in the seventh to avenge its Friday night loss to the Bulldogs.
It means Arkansas will play Kansas State tonight at 7 p.m. The Wildcats will win the regional with a victory. An Arkansas win would force a deciding game Monday night.
“We did what we wanted to do,” Van Horn said. “We got the lead, got to relax a little bit and didn’t have to burn our bullpen. Got to put some guys in and rest some guys a little bit. Nobody got hurt. We’re anxious to get ready for the second game.”
Arkansas (39-21) was much improved at the plate against Bryant (45-18-1) after managing three hits in a 4-1 loss on Friday night. The Razorbacks collected 13 hits and put together their highest run total since beating Texas A&M 12-2 on April 20.
Sophomore Joe Serrano started the big game by singling off Bryant starter Kevin McAvoy (7-3) and Spoon drove him in with a one-out single three batters later. Designated hitter Michael Gunn – who was in the lineup for the first time since April 12 — drove in the second run with a bases loaded groundout. Third baseman Jacob Mahan followed with an RBI single to push Arkansas’ lead to 3-0.
Shortstop Brett McAfee had the big hit in the third with a two-run double, which gave the Hogs a 5-1 lead. Dominic Ficociello later drew a bases loaded walk and Brian Anderson was hit by a pitch to score another run and make it 7-1.
“We got off to a good start offensively, scored some runs in the first,” Van Horn said. “We got the starter’s pitch count up. He was way up there after three innings.”
Spoon, Mahan, McAfee and first baseman Eric Fisher also drove in runs during the five-run fifth. Mahan and McAfee each went 2-for-4 with 3 RBIs in the win, while Spoon was 2-for-6 with 2 RBIs. Serrano went 3-for-3 with 2 runs scored and reached base in each of his five at-bats Sunday afternoon.
The offense was more than enough for Randall Fant (6-1), who turned in another solid start. He made one early mistake in allowing a home run to third baseman Kevin Brown in the first inning, but limited the Bulldogs the rest of the way.
Fant had to work through some tight spots. He got double plays to end the second and fourth innings. But he made it through 5 2/3 innings before being replaced by Brandon Moore. Fant allowed two runs on six hits, walked two and struck out three.
“The offense got off to a great start and that was huge for me to relax and just try to get guys out,” Fant said. “I tried to go as long as I could so we could have a bunch of guys ready for the next two games.”
Moore threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief before turning the game over to Landon Simpson. The freshman got through the final two innings to help the Razorbacks save the rest of their bullpen for tonight’s game against the Wildcats.
Arkansas will face a Kansas State team that entered the regional No. 2 in the nation in batting (.323). The Wildcats haven’t disappointed, scoring 27 runs in two games.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he will start left-hander Tyler Wright (1-1, 0.00 ERA). The senior hasn’t made an appearance since May 12 against Tennessee. His longest outing is four innings, but Van Horn said his bullpen is rested.
“We’re going to start Wright and go from there,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got pretty much everybody available except for Fant and (Barrett) Astin and (Ryne) Stanek.”
Regional Notes: Arkansas catcher Jake Wise did not start because of tenderness in his right elbow. Jean Ramirez was in the lineup and went 0-for-4 with a walk and run scored. Wise did come in to catch the final two innings. … Matt Vinson sat out Sunday’s game after struggling at the plate this week. Vinson is 0-for-8 with 6 strikeouts in two regional games. Gunn was in the lineup in Vinson’s place, while Anderson played center field and Serrano started in left field. … Arkansas’ starting pitchers (Fant, Barrett Astin and Ryne Stanek) have a combined line of 20 innings pitched, 15 hits, 4 runs, 3 earned runs, eight walks and 13 strikeouts in the regional.
NCAA MANHATTAN (KAN.) REGIONAL SCHEDULE
Game 1: No. 1 Kansas State 20, No. 4 Wichita State 11
Game 2: No. 3 Bryant 4, No. 2 Arkansas 1
Game 3: Arkansas 3, Wichita State 1 (Wichita State eliminated)
Game 4: Kansas State 7, Bryant 1
Game 5: Arkansas 12, Bryant 3 (Bryant eliminated)
Game 6: Kansas State vs. Arkansas, 7 p.m.
Game 7 (if necessary): - Kansas State vs. Arkansas, 7 p.m.