Photo Courtesy: UCA Athletics (Josh Goff)
SUGAR LAND, Texas _ The University of Central Arkansas Bears exploded for eight runs in the seventh inning and junior Bryce Biggerstaff tossed a complete game to carry the Bears to an 8-1 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to remain alive in the 2013 Southland Conference Baseball Tournament at Constellation Field.
Junior Jonathan Davis ripped a grand slam in the big inning and Biggerstaff went the distance for the fourth time this season to save the Bears' bullpen for Friday afternoon's second game against undefeated Oral Roberts. The Bears need to beat the Golden Eagles to advance to championship Saturday in just their second SLC Tournament appearance. UCA is now 2-1 this week, with its first-ever SLC tournament win over Stephen F. Austin on Thursday.
"Bryce did an awesome job,' said UCA head coach Allen Gum. "He pitches with his heart and soul, and he's done that for us all year. And he came out here and did it again today. He was just filling the zone up, throwing tons of strikes, one right after another. A lot of first-pitch strikes and he kept the ball down. That's what you have to do with Corpus Christi because they've got a great hitting team and can do some damage.'
Biggerstaff (5-4), a junior from Little Rock, was locked in a pitcher's duel with Corpus Christi's Matt Danton through six scoreless innings. But the Bears (36-20) sent 12 batters to the plate in the seventh inning, beginning with Scott Zimmerle's lead off single up the middle, his third hit of the day. Garrett Brown bunted and a throwing error by the Islanders trying to get the lead runner put Bears at first and third with no outs. Pinch hitter Chris Townsend then came through with an RBI single to right center for the game's first run.
That broke it open for the Bears and brought in a new pitcher for the Islanders, who would eventually use four in the inning. Franco Pace hit the first batter he faced, Forrestt Allday, to load the bases and quickly gave way to O'Shea Dumes. Davis greeted him with a shot over the left-field fence on an 0-1 count for his third home run of the season and first grand slam, good for a 5-0 lead.
"We always talk about doing the little things first until somebody can do something big,' said Gum. "It really started with that error at second trying to get the lead runner. We did the little things, we got bunts down, we walked, got hit by a pitch. Then we had the grand slam. JD got off a really good swing. Then is just opened up from there. You saw them loosen up a little bit and start swinging it.'
Ethan Harris and Blake Marchal continued the onslaught with consecutive base hits, chasing Dumes. Catcher Michael Marietta greeted Seth Horton with an RBI single to make it 6-0, and Zimmerle added another with an RBI single to the left-center gap. Garrett Brown added the final run with a single to left, scoring Marietta with the eighth run.
"I was very confident in that at-bat,' said Davis, a juinor All-SLC center fielder from Camden. "My coaches kept saying, just finish, it's going to happen. I'd been hitting the ball hard all year but it just wasn't falling. As a matter of fact, I talked to my grandpa last night and he was like, hit one for me tomorrow, hit me a home run tomorrow. It just happened at the right time.'
The Islanders put two runners in the bottom of the seventh but Biggerstaff got pinch hitter Dominic Lopez to pop up to second base to end the threat. A&M-CC finally managed a run in the ninth off Biggerstaff, putting together three hits and a UCA error. But A&M-CC's Kyle Danford popped up into foul territory and UCA got Stafford Brantley out in a rundown to end the game.
Zimmerle finished 3 for 4 with 1 RBI, while Davis went 2 for 4 with 4 RBI and Marietta was 2 for 5 with an RBI. Biggerstaff allowed nine hits and no earned runs, striking out two and walking none.
The Bears have now won back-to-back elimination games, with another on tap for 4 p.m. Friday against ORU, a team that swept UCA during the regular season in Tulsa.
"This team has always fought against adversity,' said Davis. "A program that hasn't even won a game in the conference tournament until yesterday. And we came out and we fought hard. I love this team and it's great to be a part of it.'
Steve East: Sports Information Director