In their first up-close look at a Southland Conference opponent, the ACU Wildcats walked away wondering what might have been after a 6-4 loss to Central Arkansas in the first game of the Al Scott Memorial Classic at Crutcher Scott Field.
The Wildcats pounded out 12 hits in their first game against an NCAA Division I opponent as a Division I member themselves, but they also left 12 runners on base – including three in the seventh inning and two in the eighth – to let the Bears off the hook.
The loss is the first of the season for the Wildcats, who fall to 3-1, while the Bears improve to 2-3 after they opened the season last weekend by losing two of three games against Missouri State and then dropping a game Tuesday at Wichita State. The Saturday andSunday schedule for the classic is the same with the 11 a.m. game both days featuring Central Arkansas against New Jersey Tech and the 4 p.m. each day featuring New Jersey Tech against ACU.
Aside from the 12 runners left on base, the Wildcats also had two runners thrown out at the plate, one tagged out at third base in a rundown, and committed two errors that led to three unearned runs.
The Bears took a 3-1 lead in the third inning with three runs on four hits and one costly error by freshman second baseman Gunnar Buhner. With the game tied 1-1 and Doug Votolato at first base, Nate Ferrell drove a two-out single to right field that pushed Votolato to third base. The throw from right field was cut off by Russell Crippen, who fired to Buhner at second base, who dropped the ball while attempting to tag Ferrell for what would have been the third out of the inning.
When the ball got past Buhner, Votolato scored and Ferrell was safe at second. Scott Zimmerle followed with a single to centerfield to drive in Ferrell to make it a 3-1 game.
ACU cut into the lead with a run in the bottom of the third on a two-out RBI single by freshman shortstop Aaron Draper, driving in Buhner to make it 3-2. Tyler Eager then came to the plate and drove a 3-1 pitch down the left field line. Draper, though, hesitated off the bag at first and couldn't beat the relay throw from shortstop Justin Treece, and Draper was tagged out at the plate on a bang-bang play.
The Wildcats had another chance to tie the game in the fourth inning after Kyle Giusti singled and went to second on Russell Crippen's walk. Brandon Grudzielanek then dropped down a perfect bunt that got past third baseman Matt Anderson and trickled down the line before it hit the bag for a base hit.
Giusti was running from the jump and got to third when the ball hit the bag. Instead of stopping, however, he made the turn for the plate and was caught in a rundown between the plate and third base. He was tagged out by the catcher Charles Deckard, leaving runners at second and third with one out. Crippen was then thrown out at the plate for the second out when he left third on contact on a ground ball by Cameron Sterne. Buhner then grounded out for the final out of the inning, leaving the Wildcats without a run in an inning that saw them put four runners on base.
The Bears got a little bit of separation in the fifth inning with a pair of runs, including one unearned run after a throwing error on catcher Seth Spivey put Votolato in scoring position on a steal of second base. UCA added another run in the seventh on a two-out, two-strike double by tyler Langley that drove in Ferrell to make it 6-2.
In the bottom of the seventh, however, the Wildcats finally got a couple of those runners to cross the plate as Grudzielanek drove Bryce Biggerstaff's 112th and final pitch into centerfield for a two-run single, plating Draper and Eager to make it 6-4 and pushing Giusti to third base. After Sterne walked to load the bases, relief pitcher Chris Caudle got Bunher to ground out to end the threat, leaving the Wildcats two runs down.
ACU got a pair of runners on base with one out in the eighth, but Eager struck out swinging for the second out and Giusti flew out to right to end the threat. Ben Ancheff got the Wildcats in order in the ninth – thanks to a double play – to pick up his second save of the season.
Nate Cole was tagged with his first loss of the season after giving up seven hits and four runs (only one earned) in four-plus innings of work. Draper and Grudzielanek each drove in a pair of runs as the freshmen in head coach Britt Bonneau's lineup continued to play well early in the season.
Information provided by ACU athletics department.