CANYON, Texas - ACU athletics officially bid adieu to the Lone Star Conference on Sunday when the Wildcats were eliminated from the league's post-season baseball tournament with a 4-3 loss to Angelo State at Wilder Park.
The Wildcats' loss to the Rams ended ACU's 40 years in the LSC as the athletics program will move to NCAA Division I affiliation and the Southland Conference on July 1. ACU finishes its final season in the LSC and in NCAA Division II at 29-24 and one win short of reaching the championship Monday.
ACU was trying to rally back to Monday's championship round after losing to Texas A&M-Kingsville in the first round on Friday, but couldn't overcome a series of baserunning mistakes in the late innings after the Wildcats had fallen behind 3-1.
Trailing 3-1, ACU got a run in the sixth to make it 3-2 and then pieced together an improbable run in the top of the ninth off reliever Graylon Brown to tie the score. Tyler Eager led off the top of the ninth with a single and then moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Chuck Duarte. J.R. Roland then walked before Ty Taylor flew out to centerfield for the second out.
Eager, however, tagged on the play, which was crucial in the next at-bat. With pinch-hitter Heath Beasley at the plate and a 1-2 count against him, Brown let a pitch get away and Eager made a mad dash from third and just beat the tag from Andrew LaCombe to tie the game at 3-3.
In the bottom of the ninth, ACU reliever Brady Rodriguez retired the first two batters he faced via strikeouts, but then gave up a single to Hunter Choate and a walk to Tyler Coughenour to put the winning run at second base. Then on a 2-2 pitch, leadoff hitter Ryan Greer plugged the gap in left-centerfield to drive in Choate with the game-winning run.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Roland drove in Eager with the first run of the game in the top of the fifth. But Angelo State answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame off ACU starting pitcher Austin Palmer, who pitched well over 6 1/3 innings, but his offense couldn't give him enough help.
In the sixth, Seth Spivey led off with a single and moved to second when Travis Schuetze reached when his sacrifice bunt was thrown away by pitcher Jake Albert. Kyle Giusti then bunted Spivey to third and Schuetze to second to give the Wildcats a pair of runners in scoring position..
With pinch-hitter Ryan Luckie at the plate, however, ASU catcher Andrew LaCombe picked off Spivey at third base for the second out of the inning. Luckie then drew a two-out walk and Tyler Eager followed with an RBI double to left field that plated Schuetze to make it 3-2. But Chuck Duarte grounded out to end the inning and keep it a one-run game.
In the seventh, Roland led off the inning with a single and was replaced on the bases by pinch-runner Mason Smith. Ty Taylor – the hero of Saturday's win over Incarnate Word by pitching 8 1/3 innings of baseball – came to the plate to bunt Smith to second. Instead, he popped it up to LaCombe, who then fired back to first to double off Smith, who was about 20 feet off the bag. Redshirt freshman pitcher Graylon Brown then retired Emmett Niland on a groundout to end the seventh.
Palmer went 6 1/3 innings and gave up just six hits and struck out six batters while walking just three Rams. Rodriguez took the loss to finish his season at 4-3.
Information provided by ACU athletics department.