CONWAY, Ark. — Freshman Ryan Dalton hit a solo home run with two down in the 11th and UTSA won its eighth game in a row with a thrilling 2-1 victory at Central Arkansas in the nightcap of Friday's doubleheader at Bear Stadium.
The victory pulled the Roadrunners (22-27, 13-19 SLC) within one game of Nicholls, which dropped a 14-13 decision at McNeese State, for the eighth and final spot in next week's Southland Conference Tournament in Corpus Christi. A UTSA victory coupled with a Colonels loss on Saturday would send the Birds to their seventh consecutive postseason tournament.
"We're just finding ways to win baseball games when we need them the most," 10th-year head coach Sherman Corbett said after UTSA's second contest of the day. "The guys fought for every out in each inning today and, although we struggled at times to swing the bats, we gave ourselves an opportunity to win two more ballgames. We knew it was going to take one big hit in each game and Jeff (Taliaferro) and Ryan (Dalton) came up big for us. That's now eight, but it doesn't mean a thing if we don't get the ninth one tomorrow."
With Bears starter Dustin Ward coming out for his 11th inning of work, the Roadrunners saw senior Lance Brown and junior Ryan Hutson go down looking on strikes to start the frame. Dalton then hooked his 16th homer of the season inside the left-field foul pole on a first-pitch fastball from Ward, barely clearing the fence, and that gave UTSA their second win of the day on a long ball in its final at-bat.
The homer tied the Roadrunners' third baseman with UT Arlington's Michael Choice and Texas A&M Corpus Christi's Trey Hernandez for the Southland Conference lead (third among freshman nationally) and it matches the fifth-best single-season total in program history.
That made a winner out of junior right-hander Kevin Clarke (8-2), who won both ends of a doubleheader for the second time in a week. The Huntsville native, who came on with runners on first and second and two down in the ninth, worked out of a bases-loaded jam in that inning and around an error to start the following frame before setting the Bears down in order in the 11th. He walked one and fanned a batter.
UTSA jumped out to an early 1-0 lead with an unearned mark in the opening frame.
Junior Tyler Carpenter was hit by a pitch to start the contest and Ward then mishandled a chopper off the bat of Brown. Carpenter moved to third when UCA right fielder Jake Fuller dropped a fly ball off the bat of junior Ryan Hutson, but Fuller was able to throw out Brown at second base. Dalton brought Carpenter home one batter later with a fielder's choice grounder to third.
The Bears (18-35-1, 9-22-1 SLC) got a two-out solo homer from Clay Washington, his team-leading fifth of the year, to tie the game in the bottom of the stanza.
pitchers then settled in and an old-fashioned pitching duel developed.
Ward (2-6) threw the third-longest game by a starting pitcher in Central Arkansas history, 11 innings, allowing just four hits and three walks, while striking out a career-high nine. Jeremy Cloud (2007) and Trent Mallett (1971) hold the program record of
12. The southpaw retired 23 of the previous 28 hitters he faced before surrendering Dalton's home run.
UTSA starter Ryan Proudfoot was just as dominant, giving up the Bears' lone run on seven hits in 8.2 panels of work. The senior right-hander fanned a season-best eight and walked three in the his fourth consecutive no-decision.
"Ryan did another outstanding job tonight and he's really solidfied the second spot in our rotation since Matt Crocker went down with an injury at the beginning of April," Corbett said. "Even though the win-loss record doesn't show it, he's been a big part of our success the last three weekends. He's thrown the ball extremely well."
Brown (second-inning double), freshman Daniel Rockett (seventh-inning single) and Rummel (sixth-inning double) had the Roadrunners' three other hits.
Zach Dickson and Blake Roberts both had two safeties for UCA.
UTSA will go after its third consecutive series sweep at 1 p.m. on Saturday in what will be the regular-season finale for
UTSA 5, Central Arkansas 4
Senior Jeff Taliaferro launched a solo home run with one down in the ninth and UTSA kept its slim hopes for a Southland Conference Tournament berth alive with a 5-4 victory in the first game of Friday's split doubleheader at Central Arkansas.
The Roadrunners (21-27, 12-19 SLC) extended their season-long winning streak to seven games and moved back within two contests of Nicholls (14-17 SLC) for the eighth and final tournament spot. The Colonels, who defeated McNeese State 15-3 (8 innings) on Thursday night at Cowboy Diamond, need to drop their final two outings of the regular season, while UTSA must win Friday's nightcap and Saturday's finale to play in the postseason for the seventh year in a row.
After Bears starter Bobby Pritchett struck out freshman Jake Wood looking to start the final frame, Taliaferro lined a 2-0 fastball just inside the left-field foul pole for his eighth homer of the season, which put the Birds in front for good.
Junior right-handed closer Kevin Clarke (7-2), who came on with runners and first and second and one down in the eighth, picked up his team-leading seventh win of the spring after setting Central Arkansas (18-34-1, 9-21-1 SLC) down in order in the ninth. The Huntsville native allowed the tying run to score in his first frame after pinch hitter Ethan Harris lined a run-scoring single up the middle.
UTSA put up four runs in the game's first three stanza — one in the first, two in the second and another an inning later — to take an early 4-0 lead.
Freshman Ryan Dalton put the Roadrunners on the board with his RBI single in the opening frame. Sophomore Matthew James and Wood pushed the advantage to three when the pair led off the following panel with back-to-back long balls. The homer was James' first of the season and Wood's fourth. An inning later, junior Ryan Hutson followed senior Lance Brown's sixth triple of the year with a single through the left side of the infield to plate the game's fourth run.
The Bears finally got to UTSA southpaw starter Casey Selsor with a three-spot in the fourth, but all the runs were unearned.
Pritchett (5-2) went the distance for UCA, surrendering eight hits, while walking three and striking out a season-high 10.
Selsor, meanwhile, scattered 10 hits and did not walk a batter until issuing a pair in the eighth. The San Antonio native gave up four runs, only one of which was earned, and he matched his career-best with seven punchouts.
Hutson, who was 2-for-3 with a walk, reached base in his first three plate appearances to stretch his consecutive streak to nine before flying out in the eighth. He now has hit in nine games in a row and reached base in 16 of his last 20 trips to the plate dating back to May 9.
Blake Roberts went 3-for-5 to lead the Bears on offense.