SUGAR LAND, Texas – Central Arkansas fought back from a two-run deficit by scoring six runs in its final three innings to claim a 7-3 victory over Stephen F. Austin Thursday in an elimination game at the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament at Constellation Field.
The win is the first Division I postseason win for the Bears since moving from Division II before the 2007 season. It also improved their season record to 35-20, tying the school record for victories.
UCA pulled within a 3-2 score with a solo run in the bottom of the sixth. Michael Marrietta drove in Ethan Harris with a single to left field.
Reliever Blake Clayton retired the Lumberjacks in order in the top of the seventh and then his offense took over in the bottom of the inning, totaling four runs to take control of the game.
Forrestt Allday got thing started with a one-out double. After Jonathan Davis was hit by pitch, Harris singled to short to load the bases for Blake Marchal. The second baseman gave the Bears the lead with a two-run double down the left-field line. Marietta’s RBI single scored Marchal and a throwing error allowed Harris to cap the four-run inning. UCA plated another run in the eighth when Justin Treece scored from on a ground out by Davis.
Marchal drove in three runs and led a group of five Bears who had two hits, including Allday, Marietta, Scott Zimmerle and Treece. Marietta drove in two while Davis finished with an RBI and scored twice.
Clayton earned the win, tossing four scoreless innings in relief. He allowed two hits and struck out three in improving to 3-1. UCA starter Jeff Enloe allowed the three SFA runs on six hits, while striking out four and walking four. Brett Higginbotham, the Southland relief pitcher of the year, was tagged with the loss after he allowed three of the Bears’ four runs in the seventh. He finishes the year 4-3.
SFA was led at the plate by Zach Benson, Hunter Dozier and Ricardo Sanchez, who each had two hits. Dozier drove in two runs, while the third run was plated by Mackenzie Handel.
No. 7 seed UCA awaits the loser of the winner’s bracket game between No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and No. 3 see Oral Roberts. SFA finishes its season with a 28-29 overall record.
Central Arkansas Head Coach Allen Gum
On team’s performance in elimination game
“It was going slow early. Our starting pitcher Jeff (Enloe) did a great job of hanging in there. He got a little tired, but Clay (Clayton Blake) came in and did an outstanding job. That was big. We hadn’t had a good bounce or a good hop, but we finally found it right down the right field line; got that bounce with the swinging bunt. We needed it. We hadn’t had one in a couple weeks. I’m proud of our guys. They kept fighting and didn’t stop and they added the lead, which was big. So, we could take some pressure off of Blake there later.”
On first postseason win in school history
“It was big. It really is. We talk about doing things that had never been done and the expectations and raising those. Not just getting here, but winning games. Our mindset is winning championships and there is a process for that for sure, but winning today is the start of that process. It was a big win for our program and UCA.”
Central Arkansas Outfielder Forrestt Allday
On mindset coming into an elimination game
“It’s our backs against the wall. We’ve been having some tough luck lately getting guys on and getting runners in scoring position and just not coming through with that big hit, but today we got a little bit of luck. We got some infield singles and they gave us a couple of bases there and that was huge.”
On how late innings played out and teams performance
“Perseverance really; Keeping the faith. Coach (Allen Gum) talks about the three Fs: finish, fight and faith. You have got to keep the faith.”
On playing one, possibly two games tomorrow
“I’m excited. I’m from the Houston area so I know what kind of weather this is. The humidity is always huge and luckily we play in the morning. So, it’s not as hot and will hopefully help us save some energy. Hopefully we can pull out two Ws.”
Stephen F. Austin Head Coach Johnny Cardenas
On team and season
“I don’t think it has anything to say about us, but it has a lot to say about our conference. I think our conference is a really good conference. The bottom line is if you don’t bring out a good game, you’re going to get beat. There are a lot of good teams in our conference and it was tightly packed all year long. You have to bring a good game every game for all nine innings and if you lapse and walk a guy or don’t make plays. You’ll end up on the losing end.”
On direction of program
“I say we are headed in the right direction. We did see some work that we need to get done and it’s always good to make the tournament every year, but at the same time we have to find a way to get over the hump.”
On Hunter Dozier and Brett Higginbotham
“They did a great job representing the university and themselves. The bottom line is the conference is a good conference."