MANHATTAN — The postseason success that had eluded Kansas State all season got a happy ending on Sunday night after the Wildcats’ 4-3 win over Arkansas clinched an NCAA Regional victory with a 4-3 win over Arkansas and advanced to a Super Regional for the first time in school history.
“We believed we could do it,” K-State first baseman Shane Conlon said. “There was a bit of relief, sure, but we never had any negative thoughts or anything like that.”
The win ended a string of postseason disappointments for the school’s trio of Big 12 champions. The football team, after winning its first league title since 2003, fell flat in the Fiesta Bowl with a 35-17 loss to Oregon.
The men’s basketball team, also Big 12 champions, were stunned thanks to a loss to LaSalle in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo.
“We’re happy we’re moving on,” K-State coach Brad Hill said. “It definitely would’ve been disappointing to come this far, to host, and then to end up at home. I hope that we’re not done playing for a little bit.”
Disappointing Hogs -- Arkansas started the season ranked No. 1 in the nation and now finds itself headed home for the season full of disappointments that saw them put together the best pitching staff in the nation.
“We struggled all year, that’s no secret,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “What I’ll remember about this season is what an amazing pitching staff we had ... righties, lefties, they could kind of do it all.”
One thing the Razorbacks could never do consistently was hit the ball or produce runs. They batted .260 as a team and only had one player -- left fielder Brian Anderson -- finish the season with a batting average over .300.
“When you lose games like this it really hits home with the expectations and what your fans expect,” said Anderson, who hit .325. “This is not where we wanted to be. Our goal was to end up in the College World Series.”
All-Tournament team -- Kansas State junior second baseman Ross Kivett, the Big 12 player of the year and an All-American, added more honors to his stellar junior season as he was named the MVP of the Manhattan Regional.
Kivett was joined on the All-Tournament team by more Wildcats -- pitcher Gerardo Esquivel, catcher Blair DeBord, first baseman Shane Conlon, outfielder Tanner Witt and outfielder Jared King.
Wichita State put one player on the All-Tournament team with designated hitter Johnny Coy. Arkansas pitcher and Blue Valley High product Ryne Stanek was named all-tournament, as were Arkansas shortstop Brett McAfee and outfielder Tyler Spoon. Bryant put one player on the all-tournament team with third baseman Kevin Brown.
Bryant’s run ends -- Bryant didn’t just make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history -- they made it in the first time they were even eligible as a Division I program. The Bulldogs began the transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I following the 2008 season.
The Bulldogs were eliminated from the Manhattan Regional on Sunday with a 12-3 loss to Arkansas, following a 7-1 loss to host and top seed K-State on Saturday night.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what our guys accomplished, of what they did this season,” Bryant coach Steve Owens said. “What they accomplished was nothing short of historic.”
Bryant finished the year 45-18-1, setting the school record and Northeast Conference record for wins. They also became the first team from Bryant to win a game in any NCAA Division I Tournament when the Bulldogs beat SEC power Arkansas 4-1 in Friday’s regional opener.
“I think our program has a very bright future,” Owens said. “Look how far we came in our first year?”
Update on Zarzozny -- Bryant outfielder AJ Zarzozny spent Saturday night in a Manhattan hospital after being knocked unconscious on a tag from K-State catcher Blair DeBord in the first inning of Saturday night’s loss to the Wildcats. Owens said Zarzozny was released from the hospital Sunday morning after suffering a concussion.