MANHATTAN, Kan. — Arkansas reliever Jalen Beeks has been one of the Razorbacks most dependable arms out of the bullpen throughout the 2013 season.
But the left-hander would like to forget his first NCAA Tournament.
Beeks, who allowed three runs in the eighth inning of Arkansas’ loss to Bryant on Friday night, suffered an even rougher relief performance in the season-ending 4-3 loss to Kansas State on Sunday night in Tointon Family Stadium.
The Prairie Grove native came out of the bullpen in the seventh inning after reliever Michael Gunn issued two walks without recording an out. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, Arkansas asked Beeks to walk Jared King intentionally to load the bases in hopes of inducing another double play.
But Beeks’ third toss went short of the plate and skipped away from catcher Jean Ramirez, which allowed the game-tying run to score. Beeks then uncorked another wild pitch a little later, allowing the go-ahead run to cross the plate.
Beeks was 6-1 with a 1.66 earned run average entering the NCAA Tournament. He had allowed just seven runs in 38 innings of relief before Bryant tagged him for three runs on four hits Friday night. He had only thrown two wild pitches before the regional final as well.
The mistakes wiped out Arkansas’ chance of forcing a deciding game in the regional.
Arkansas catcher Jake Wise did not start either game Sunday because of tenderness in his right elbow, according to the Razorbacks.
Ramirez started in Wise’s place during both games, although the junior did come in to catch the final two innings against Bryant.
Wise has not started four of the Razorbacks’ seven postseason games. The junior also missed two starts during the Southeastern Conference Tournament because of an illness he described as walking pneumonia.
Wise had started 49 of Arkansas’ 54 regular season games behind the plate.
Double Play Day
The Razorbacks found a way to avoid some trouble Sunday: Turning double plays.
Arkansas turned four double plays in its 12-3 win against Bryant, then came back to add two more in the loss to Kansas State. Five of the six double plays ended innings.
The four double plays in the Bryant win ended the second, fourth, seventh and ninth innings. Big plays helped starting pitcher Randall Fant wiggle out of trouble in the second and fourth innings. Reliever Brandon Moore induced on in the seventh and Landon Simpson got a game-ending double play in the ninth.
“We hit into four double plays, which you cannot do,” Bryant coach Steve Owens said. “Most of those were first and third or bases loaded double plays.”
Arkansas also turned two more double plays against Kansas State to get out of jams.
The first came in the third inning, when reliever Trent Daniel turned a 4-3 double play on his first pitch to help keep the Wildcats scoreless. Michael Gunn got the second 4-3 double play to end the fifth inning and strand a runner on third.
Arkansas finished the 2013 season with 39 wins, missing the 40-win mark for the first time in five years.
The last Arkansas team to fall short of 40 wins came in 2008, when the Razorbacks won 2004. Arkansas won 41 games in 2009, 43 in 2010, 40 in 2011 and 46 in 2012.
Arkansas has missed the 40-win mark five times in Dave Van Horn’s 11 seasons.
Arkansas got its three first-inning runs against Kansas State thanks to big hits from players who had struggled at the plate in the regional.
Brian Anderson, who was 0-for-9 through three games, got a two-run single to give the Razorbacks the lead. Matt Vinson – who was benched for the Bryant game after going 0-for-8 with 6 strikeouts in two games – added an RBI single.
Fant allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings Sunday afternoon, giving the Razorbacks a third quality start in the Manhattan Regional.
Fant, Barrett Astin and Ryne Stanek turned in a combined line of 20 innings pitched, 15 hits, 4 runs, 3 earned runs, 8 walks and 13 strikeouts. Fant said his goal was simple Sunday: Stay in the game as long as possible.
“I tried to go as long as I could so we could have guys ready to go for the next two games,” Fant said.
Bryant’s Run Ends
Bryant’s season came to an end in Sunday’s loss. The Bulldogs – who were eligible for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since moving into Division I — finished 45-18-1. Bryant pointed to Friday’s 4-1 win against Arkansas as a highlight.
“When we look back on this, it’s going to be a tremendous accomplishment,” Owens said. “In our first year of postseason eligibility, we won a regional game against an SEC team and played very well.”
Said third baseman Kevin Brown: “We expected to win this tournament … We just didn’t play our brand of baseball these last two days.”