PHOTO | Destini Nguyen
The highly-anticipated series between the top-two teams in the Great American Conference came to a close on Saturday afternoon, and much like the opener on Friday night, the final two games were closely-contested and thrilling until the end. Unfortunately, consensus top-10 ranked Southern Arkansas emerged victorious in both games, winning each by matching scores of 5-3.
The opener started out as a scoreless pitcher’s duel between Tech’s Grant Shahan and SAU’s Mikel Howell. The two held one another’s opposing offense without a run through the first three innings of the game.
In the fourth, SAU got on the board first with a run. The inning had the makings of more than one run coming across as the Muleriders (27-10, 19-5 GAC) had second and third with no outs. Shahan was able to minimize the dagame that inning to the one run as he retired the next three batters in order.
An inning later, SAU pushed across a pair of runs to take a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, the Wonder Boys (23-16, 16-8 GAC) were get their offense going and scored three runs to tie the game at three-all. That inning featured only one hit as the Wonder Boys benefited from a pair of walks, a pair of hit-by-pitches and a SAU error. The hit in the inning was a two-RBI single through the left side by Cade McBride.
Unfortunately, the Muleriders would go back in front in the top of the sixth on a clutch two-out, two-RBI single the other way into right field.
Facing one of SAU’s top relievers, who entered the game in the fifth and got out of the inning with the game tied, Tech was held off the board in the sixth, but threatened in the seventh after a leadoff single by Sam Stephenson eventually saw him make third with no outs as he advanced to second on a wild pitch while McBride hit an infield single. The Wonder Boys were unable to get a big hit with runners on the corners and were turned away without scoring.
That proved to be their final best chance at scoring the remainder of the game as they were retired in order in the eighth and ninth innings.
In the second game, SAU was again the first to score thanks to a leadoff home run in the top of the second inning. This time, the Wonder Boys had an immediate answer as they scored twice in the bottom of the second to take a 2-1 lead.
In their half of the second, Nick Jones led off with a single to left field. Logan Schwenke then singled himself, but to right-centerfield. After a successful sacrifice bunt by Markos Cabranes moved Jones to third and Schwenke to second, Brandon Bunton hit a sacrifice fly to chase home Jones. Keaton Ranallo then singled sharply to third for a RBI to Schwenke.
Pitching then took over for both teams as neither team scored over the next three innings.
In the top of the sixth, the Muleriders tied the game two-all. Like in the first game, that inning could have had more damage done, but reliever Mason Griffin was able to induce a double play and got a strikeout to end the inning with the score still tied.
The Wonder Boys then went back on top in their half of the sixth as Keaton Ranallo belted a solo home run out to left field. The one run was all Tech was able to score, but were in position to come away with a DH split as the second game was a seven-inning contest and SAU was down to their final at-bats.
After a full-count strikeout to SAU’s leadoff hitter for the first out of the inning, the Muleriders went on to rally for three runs to take a 5-3 lead. The rally started with a one-out single up the middle. Two batters later, the bases were loaded after consecutive walks. The Wonder Boys then turned to the bullpen for left-hander Will Horton to face the left-handed hitting Brett McGee for SAU.
McGee would hit a soft ground ball to second base where Tech’s only play was at first which allowed the tying run to come across. SAU then got a clutch two-RBI double to left-centerfield to break up the tie and take the 5-3 lead.
Now down to their final at-bats, the Wonder Boys would get the tying run to the plate with one out, but were unable to push across any runs.