SUGAR LAND, Texas – The Central Arkansas Bears struck for four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and eliminated Stephen F. Austin with a 7-3 win on Thursday in the Southland Conference Tournament at Constellation Field.
The No. 7 Bears (35-20) had five players with two hitsapiece, with the top third of the lineup accounting for five runs and four hits. Cleanup man Blake Marchal had a pair of hits too, and three RBI, including the go-ahead double in the deciding seventh inning.
"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," SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas said. "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."
The No. 6 'Jacks (28-29) got two-hit days from Zach Benson, Hunter Dozier and Ricardo Sanchez, with Benson scoring a pair and Dozier picking up a pair of RBI. The loss spoiled another standout start from senior Justin Choate, who surrendered just two runs in 6.0 innings, matching a career high with seven strikeouts for the third time this season.
Releiver Brett Higginbotham took the loss, his first since March 19 at Rice, and falling to 4-3 after allowing three runs in just two-thirds of an inning. UCA reliever Blake Clayton was the winning pitcher for the Bears, holding the 'Jacks scoreless on just two hits in 4.0 innings.
The loss brings SFA's season to a close, while the Bears advance to face the loser of a game between Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Oral Roberts to be played Thursday afternoon.
A one-out double from Jonathan Davis set up the first run of the game for the Bears in the bottom of the first inning, and two batters later Blake Marchal brought him in with an RBI single.
Dozier squared things up at 1-1 with an RBI double into the right-field corner with two outs in the top of the third, scoring Benson. Two innings later the 'Jacks took the lead with a pair of runs in the fifth. Walks to Zach Marberry and Benson set things up for Dozier again, who lined an RBI single to left-center off of UCA starter Jeffrey Enloe. Max Lamantia followed with an infield single to load the bases, and one batter later Mackenzie Handel scored Benson with a sacrifice fly to put the 'Jacks ahead 3-1.
But the Bears got a run back in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single from Michael Marietta to cut the lead to 3-2, then struck forfour runs off the Lumberjack bullpen in the bottom of the seventh. A one-out double from Forrestt Allday started the rally and forced SFA to go to Higginbotham, but the SFA reliever hit Davis before Ethan Harris reached on an infield hit to load the bases.
Marchal then kept a two-run double inside the first-base bag to put UCA up 4-3. One batter later Marietta picked up another RBI with an infield hit with UCA scoring a second run on the play on a Lumberjack throwing error, putting the Bears up 6-3.