UCA Bears’ Historic Run Falls Short; Razorbacks End Maddening Season

Chris Murray Bio
Both the UCA Bears and the Arkansas Razorbacks reached the championship round of their respective NCAA Regionals, and each fell short in their bid to make the Super Regionals.

The UCA Bears made a spirited run through the Starkville Regional, becoming one of just four teams to force a Monday winner-take-all game. And the Bears were the only No. 4 seed to get that far.

UCA got complete-game victories from Connor Gilmore and Ethan McKinzie in Sunday wins over South Alabama and Mississippi State. The latter forced a rematch with the Bulldogs, and the complete games allowed the Bears to go into Monday with a rested bullpen.

Mississippi State scored twice in the first inning, thanks in large part to uncharacteristically shaky UCA defense, and the Bulldogs never trailed in a 6-1 victory. The Bears struck out 17 times, and Chad Girodo worked 6.2 innings of relief for the win. The lefty’s slider had the Bears off-balance all night, and they only scored an unearned run with two outs in the ninth.

The Bears opened the regional with a hard-fought loss to the host Bulldogs on Friday, dropping them into the loser’s bracket. They stayed alive with a win Saturday over Mercer, leading to the twin complete-game wins on Sunday.

UCA finished with a record of 42-22, a Southland Conference Tournament championship, and three wins over Mississippi State, plus wins over Wichita State and Oklahoma State, among other tourney teams. Gilmore made the all-tournament team, along with Michael Marietta, Ethan Harris and Justin Treece.

Of course, UCA players and coaches won’t be satisfied with this finish, but third-year coach Allen Gum has put UCA Bears baseball on the map nationally. The challenge now will be to build upon this outstanding season.


For Arkansas and its fans, the ugly details of the Razorbacks’ 4-3 loss to Kansas State on Sunday night were all too familiar. The Hogs built an early lead (three runs in the first) only to have their offense shut down thereafter. Their pitching was solid, if not spectacular, all night. And ultimately, like many times before, fundamentals let them down.

In the fourth, Brett McAfee led off with a double. Jean Ramirez bunted him to third, but McAfee slid right through the bag (yes, the quick field turf probably was somewhat to blame). He got up and tried to score but was tagged out, and the Hogs’ scoring chance was gone.

Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the seventh, K-State put runners on second and third against Jalen Beeks, Arkansas’ top lefty reliever. Beeks then attempted to intentionally walk Jared King to load the bases (and set up the double play), but his second toss was in the dirt, allowing Ross Kivett to score the tying run. Two pitches later, another wild pitch skipped by Jean Ramirez, and Tanner Witt came home with the eventual winning run. The Wildcats’ game-winning rally came without benefit of a single hit, and just like that, the team with the nation’s top ERA – and arguably the best pitching staff in school history – was sent home.

After taking a 3-0 lead in the first, the Hogs chased K-State’s starter in the second, loading the bases with two outs. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Wildcats, as Gerardo Esquivel came on in relief and fired 4 1/3 innings of one-hit baseball, keeping KSU in the game. K-State pulled within 3-2 in the fourth, and only Tyler Spoon’s diving catch in right allowed the Hogs to retain the lead.

The Hogs went quietly the rest of the night, failing to force a deciding Monday game with the Wildcats, who advanced to the Super Regionals against Oregon State.

Arkansas fell into the loser’s bracket Friday with a stunning 4-1 loss to upstart Bryant. The Hogs took a 1-0 lead in the fifth and had the bases loaded with no outs. Again, the team’s inability to come through with a big hit proved fatal. The Bulldogs got out of the inning down just one run, and Salvatore Listani fired four hitless innings of relief. Bryant roughed up Beeks in a three-run eighth, spoiling another strong start for Barrett Astin.

The Hogs came back with a 3-1 win over Wichita State behind the pitching of Ryne Stanek, who allowed just two hits over 7 1/3 innings. Arkansas avenged the loss to Bryant with a resounding 12-3 win on Sunday, setting up the matchup with Kansas State.

Stanek, Spoon and Brett McAfee were named to the all-tournament team. McAfee and Spoon drove in four runs apiece, and Stanek had the outstanding start in the elimination game win over Wichita State.

It’s a testament to the job coach Dave Van Horn has done when a losing in the regional finals can be considered by most a disappointment. But that’s precisely what most will say when looking back at the 2013 season. Ranked preseason no. 1 and coming off a strong performance in Omaha in 2012, plus having the best ERA in the country, anything less than a return trip to the College World Series would be a letdown.

All during the season, the perception was that Arkansas was underperforming, mostly due to shoddy defense and inability to drive in runs in key spots. Most believed, even until the very end, that this Razorback team was built for June, and that it had the arms to win in regionals and beyond. But pitching is just one aspect of the game, and ultimately it was not enough to overcome deficiencies in other areas.

Looking forward to 2014

Arkansas will assuredly have to replace its weekend starters. Randall Fant is a senior, Stanek a sure-fire lottery pick, and Astin also figures to be drafted too highly to return. There are talented arms returning though, with Michael Gunn, Trey Killian, Brandon Moore, Colin Poche, Beeks and others coming back.

Offensively, Brian Anderson, Joe Serrano and Spoon will be back, and likely Dominic Ficociello. McAfee, who showed improvement during the course of the season, also returns, as does Jordan Farris, Eric Fisher, and Willie Schwanke, all of whom contributed at one point or another. Blake Baxendale figures to push for playing time, and who knows what the incoming class will bring.

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