For a while, scoring the third run of the game seemed to elude Kansas State in its NCAA Regional championship game with Arkansas.
But a sequence of two wild pitches among three tries from Razorback pitcher Jalen Beeks helped the Wildcats score two runs and win 4-3, notching their first regional title in school history.
The Wildcats will play in a Super Regional against Oregon State this weekend in Corvallis, Ore. The game schedules will be announced tonight.
K-State (44-17) drew back-to-back walks with Ross Kivett and Tanner Witt to start the seventh inning, and advanced the runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt.
Beeks looked to intentionally walk K-State center fielder Jared King, but his second throw bounced away wildly and Kivett scored to tie the game. Two pitches later, ball four skidded away from Arkansas catcher Jean Ramirez, and Witt scored to give the Wildcats the lead.
K-State coach Brad Hill said he understood the rarity of the play that gave his team the lead.
“Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky, we were a little lucky,” Hill said. “It is what it is, we were fortunate it worked out in our favor. We’ll take it anyway we can get it.”
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said a wild pitch on an intentional walk, leading to a run, was something he’d only heard of.
“I haven’t had one — well now I have — I’ve heard about them,” he said. “It happens, it caught us all of guard. (Beeks) just lost control of the baseball. He didn’t lose the game for us, it just happened.”
K-State has become accustomed to winning big games in unconventional ways this season. The Wildcats clinched the Big 12 Conference regular-season title by scoring on a passed ball.
After creating a season-long persona of never being out of game when trailing late, Hill said he should’ve known his team had something left.
“You get down 3-0 in the first, you’re very concerned if you can get back into it,” he said. “I should’ve learned by now, don’t count these guys out, ever. They’ve done a tremendous job all year of just playing the game, and seeing what happens.”
The win was the next step for K-State in the progression of its program, which began with making the 2008 Big 12 tournament championship game. The Wildcats made three appearances in the NCAA Regionals starting in 2009, before earning their first host bid this season. Now, K-State is two wins away from the College World Series.
Van Horn said what Hill has been able to accomplish over the last few years hasn’t been surprising to him.
“You look at Brad’s track record, he knows how to win, he’s just a good baseball coach,” Van Horn said. “He’s surrounded himself with good coaches, disciplined players that work hard and don’t complain when you play in this climate, it paid off.
“There is a magic for Kansas State right now. It has been that type of year up here. I think with all three of the major sports, it has been a great year for Kansas State.”
Gerardo Esquivel (2-2) pitched 4 1/3 innings of relief to earn the win for K-State, allowing just one hit. Michael Gunn (1-1), who walked Kivett and Witt before Beeks entered the game, was charged with the loss.
Arkansas (39-22) notched three straight hits off Blake McFadden to start the game, taking a 2-0 lead right off the bat. Arkansas’ Matt Vinson singled to score the third run of the inning - his first hit of the regional tournament.
The Razorbacks loaded the bases in the second inning, forcing K-State to go to its bullpen early. Esquivel got the Wildcats out of the frame with no damage.
Arkansas never put together a serious scoring threat after that.
K-State had two hits in the top of the first, but couldn’t manage a run. Arkansas walked the first two Wildcats batters in the third inning, but K-State was again held at bay.
The Wildcats didn’t score any runs until the fourth inning, when Blair DeBord drove a single down the left field line to score Austin Fisher. Mitch Meyer hit a long fly ball to right field with the bases loaded that could have tied the game, but Razorbacks right fielder Tyler Spoon made a diving catch to keep the play to one run, and K-State trailed 3-2.
K-State failed to convert on chances to score a run in the fifth inning, putting runners at the corners before grounding into an inning-ending double play.