ACU rallies for 8-7 win
CLEVELAND, Miss. -- For seven innings Friday afternoon, almost nothing went right for the ACU Wildcats.
For the final two innings they could do no wrong as they rallied from a 7-3 deficit to knock off West Alabama, 8-7, in the first round of the NCAA Division II South Central Region baseball tournament at Ferriss Field on the campus of Delta State University.
ACU (44-15) now advances to the winner's bracket game at 7 p.m. Saturay against the winner of Friday's afternoon's game between Southern Baptist and Ouachita Baptist. The Tigers (45-12) will play at 3 p.m. Saturday against the winner of Friday night's game between Texas A&M-Kingsville and top-seeded Delta State.
"We were able to just keep battling and fighting, and everntually things turned our way," said ACU head coach Britt Bonneau, who picked up his 498th career win as the Wildcats' head coach. "We had some good at-bats early in the game, but we just couldn't things to go our way. But when they did turn for us, they really went our way."
Things turned for the Wildcats in the top of the eight when they started the top of the eighth with three straight singles against UWA starting pitcher Mike Schmitt, who was then lifted from the game with a 7-3 lead. Josh Varner then came into the game and on his first pitch of the game gave up a two-run single to Thomas Bumpass that drove in Allen Smith and Willie Uechi to make it a 7-5 game.
J.J. Pacheco then reached on an infield single and went to second on a throwing error by third baseman Rob Dahlberg, a throwing error that allowed Cameron Watten to score to cut the lead UWA lead to 7-6. With no outs, Trey Watten grounded out to send Bumpass to third, and he then scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by Matt Spotanski, tying the game at 7-7.
Chris Wiman then came into the game to pitch for the Wildcats, and, despite giving up a two-out double to Jade DeRoy, retired Jeremy Finney to end the inning and send the game to the ninth inning tied at 7-7.
In the ninth, the Wildcats had two outs and Uechi at first base after he reached on a fielder's choice before he went to second on a single by Cameron Watten. Bumpass then hit a ground ball to shortstop Nick Wheeler, who collided with second baseman Jeremy Finney behind the bag, and the Wildcats had the bases loaded with two outs.
Pacheco then hit a slow roller to Finney, who bobbled the ball and then kicked it, allowing Uechi to score the go-ahead run. Finney then threw out Watten at the plate to end the inning and keep the ACU lead at 8-7.
In the ninth, Wiman got the first out before Tres Avans drew a walk, bringing the winning run to the plate in the form of Todd Rea, who hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the first and drove in five runs in the game. But Wiman struck him out swinging for the second out of the inning, and then retired Wheeler on a popout to Smith at first base to give the Wildcats the come-from-behind win.
"We'll enjoy this win for a little bit, but we know we've got a tough team in front of us Saturday night in either Southern Arkansas or Ouachita Baptist," Bonneau said. "I'm really proud of my guys for the way they kept battling and kept pushing and never gave up."
Ben Maynard got the start on the mound for the Wildcats, and he went 5 1/3 innings without much luck to show for it. In the bottom of the first inning, he retired the first two batters and then had a 3-2 count against Rob Dahlberg before what looked like was a third strike was called a ball, allowing Dahlberg to reach base on a two-out walk. Avans then hit a bloop single to left just out of the reach of Uechi at shorstop, keeping the inning alive. Rea then hammered a 3-1 pitch over the wall in right field to make it 3-0.
In the third, Finney reached on a single and went to second on a wild pitch before Maynard retired Dahlberg and Avans, looking as though he might get out of the inning unscathed. Rea then hit a ground ball to Smith at first, and just as the ball was about to roll right into his glove for an inning-ending groundout, the ball took a bad hop over his right shoulder into right field, driving in Finney to make it a 4-1 game.
The Wildcats added single runs in both the fourth and fifth to cut the UWA lead to 4-3, and ACU was right back in the game. But the Tigers added two runs in the fifth by executing some small ball to push the lead back to 6-3. Rea drove in a run with a fielder's choice, although it looked as if the throw from Pacheco to Jordan Schmitt at the plate cut down Dahlberg at the plate, and then Avans scored from third when he and Rea executed the double-steal.
In the sixth, Maynard retired the first man of the inninb efore Brent Bumgarner and Jake DeRoy hit back-to-back doubles to make it 7-3. DeRoy was the last man that Maynard faced, giving way to freshman lefthander Kevin Justice, who might have been the game's unsung hero. Schmitt threw out DeRoy trying to steal third for the second out and Justice retired Finney on a groundout to keep the game at 7-3.
Justice then worked around a pair of base hits in the seventh inning to keep the Tigers off the board and set up the Wildcats' comeback victory in the final two innings.
ACU NOTES: Senior righthander Chris Wiman extended his ACU single-season record for wins to 13 as he picked up Friday's victory in relief. ... Wiman needs just one more win this season to tie the Lone Star Conference single-season record for wins in a season (14), which was set by Cary Ammons of Southeastern Oklahoma State in 1998 and tied in 2001 by Ricky Belk of Central Oklahoma and Garrett Murdy of Texas A&M-Kingsville in 2004. ... Wiman now has 32 career victories, which leaves him one away from tying teammate Ben Maynard as the all-time leading winner in LSC and ACU history. ... ACU has the top three winningest pitchers in LSC history with Maynard (33 wins from 2004-08), Wiman (32 wins from 2006-08) and Casey Towery (31 wins from 1996-99). ... ACU senior leftfielder Mike Elkerson had a first-inning single Friday to give him 108 hits on the season, tying the LSC record for hits in a season (Steven Allred, Angelo State, 2007). ... The Wildcats had 17 hits in Friday's victory, their most in a game since they had 21 hits in a 16-7 win over Tarleton State on April 25. ... The Wildcats' 8-7 win over West Alabama marked the fifth straight time the Wildcats have opened the regional tournament with a win (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008). ... ACU is 7-1 in the first game of the regional tournament in eight regional tournament appearances. ... Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they are 1-6 in the second game of the regional tournament with the only win coming in 2003 (14-5 over Delta State) when the Wildcats won the regional title to advance to their only College World Series.