By Grant Abston, Sports Editor
Before traveling to Oklahoma for a pivotal Lone Star Conference matchup with Cameron University this weekend, the Wildcats took care of business Wednesday in a non-conference matchup versus Texas Wesleyan, defeating the Rams 8-3 and improving to 35-12 overall.
Led by third baseman Steve Camillucci and starting pitcher Kevin Justice, the Wildcats scored two in the third and three more in the fourth to take 5-0 lead that proved too much for the Rams. Texas Wesleyan cut the lead to 5-2 after the top of the fifth, but ACU scored three runs over the next two innings and ended any comeback threat.
“I felt like today was one of our best games offensively that we have had,” second baseman Chris Hall said. “There were not a lot of runs, but we had 12 hits which is good, and we found ways to have big innings after having trouble last weekend with one-run innings.”
Justice improved to 6-1 after pitching five innings, allowing two runs on three hits, while relief pitchers Matt Sullivan, Corey Kelly and Andrew Yacek pitched the final four innings and combined to allow just one run on four hits. Offensively, Camillucci led the team, going 3-3 and matched Hall with a game-high 2 RBI. Catcher Cameron Bankston and center fielder Thomas Bumpass each added two hits as ACU outhit the Rams 12-7.
“The pitchers threw well, and we got a good start from Justice, and he kind of set the tone for the whole day,” Hall said.
The ninth-ranked Wildcats will now turn their attention to Cameron University, who sits in second place and two games behind ACU for first in the LSC. The Aggies (34-12, 25-11) are ranked No. 21 in the nation and No. 5 in the first regional rankings, three spots behind No. 2 ACU, and could take over first place with a series win in the biggest conference series of the season for either team.
The Aggies, who split last weekend with Texas A&M-Kingsville, are ranked first in the LSC in runs scored (423), RBI (387) and home runs (74), and are led by designated hitter Nate Arevalo, shortstop Thomas Dicker and second baseman Clint Powell. Arevalo leads the team with 66 RBI, 67 hits and a .379 batting average. His 12 home runs are second to Powell, who is tied for second in the LSC with 13 home runs and has a .333 average. Dicker ranks second on the team with a .358 average and has 52 RBI and 12 home runs this season.
“They are a very well hitting team, and we just have to try and play our game,” head coach Britt Bonneau said. “In my opinion, they are a regional team, and we might face them a lot over the next four weeks.”
On the mound, starting pitchers Brad Bichel (9-1, 4.54 ERA) and Logan Grimes (7-1, 4.88 ERA) will lead the Aggies who rank fourth in the LSC with a 5.68 ERA. Bichel has thrown five complete games and is tied for first in the LSC with nine wins, joining relief pitcher James Maxwell. Maxwell (9-0) leads the team with 58 strikeouts and ranks No. 1 in the LSC in wins and ERA (2.41).
But while the Aggies look to outhit the Wildcats this weekend, ACU has some impressive offensive statistics of its own, as well as one of the top pitching staffs in the LSC. ACU boasts four players in the top 10 in batting average in the LSC, led by Bumpass, who ranks No. 1 with a .424 average. Shortstop Willie Uechi (.412), Schmitt (.409) and Hall (.394) join Bumpass in the top 10, while Schmitt (74), Uechi (73) and Bumpass (70) rank No. 1, 2 and 3 in the LSC in hits. Schmitt also ranks No. 1 in RBI (76), while ACU ranks No. 1 in hits (543) and batting average (.353) in the LSC.
Looking to keep the Aggies’ offense in check this weekend will be starting pitchers Cameron Aspaas (7-1, 3.64 ERA), Preston Vancil (2-3, 4.48), Sullivan (3-2, 6.80 ERA) and Cooper Page (1-1, 5.98 ERA). Aspaas ranks fourth in the LSC in ERA, while Vancil leads the LSC with 77 strikeouts. Closer Brad Rutherford (9-3, 3.30 ERA) also will be key to the series as he is tied for first in the LSC in wins and tied for first with eight saves.
“This time of year you’re trying to get everyone on the same page and get everybody focused on our goals that we set forth at the beginning of the year,” Bonneau said. “If you do those things, you tend to play better and stay focused, and that’s key to this team: one, get healthy; and two, focus on the ultimate goal, and that starts this weekend with Cameron.”
The Wildcats’ four-game series with Cameron will begin Friday at 3 p.m., followed by a doubleheader Saturday at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The series will conclude Sunday at 1 p.m.