By Austin Gwin, Assistant Sports Editor
The Wildcat baseball team won the Lone Star Conference championship in style yesterday, blanking rival Angelo State 6-0. ACU ran through the LSC tournament undefeated after winning all four of its games. ACU has played in the championship round the last three years but has failed to win. This year, however, the tables turned and the Wildcats won their first championship since 2002.
The Wildcats scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back. Second baseman Chris Hall led off the game for the Wildcats with a double and scored after an RBI double by center fielder Jordan Schmitt. Schmitt’s double gave him the LSC all-time hits record. An RBI single by shortstop Willie Uechi knocked Schmitt home and gave the Wildcats their 2-0 cushion.
In the third and fourth, ACU was able to add three more runs to their lead. In the third, Brett Boschler hit a one-out RBI single, and designated hitter Cameron Watten hit a hard liner to third base in the fourth to add two more and make the ACU lead 5-0. Watten’s hit was originally ruled an error by the Angelo State third baseman, but after the game, the call was reversed and Watten was granted the two RBI.
The Wildcats tallied one more insurance run in the bottom of the eighth when right fielder Travis Latz singled Page Davis home. The RBI gave the game its final margin of 6-0.
The Wildcats’ hot start to the game forced the Angelo Rams to make a pitching change only two outs into the game. The pitching change started a trend that saw five Angelo State pitchers take the mound.
The story on the mound was quite the opposite for the ‘Cats. Starting pitcher Preston Vancil was spectacular, throwing seven shutout innings. Relief pitcher Kevin Justice threw a scoreless eighth, and closer Brad Rutherford did his job in the ninth to give the Wildcats a shutout.
“Last year, it was really rough having to watch another team celebrate winning the tournament. It was amazing getting to be on the other side of that celebration this season,” said Vancil.
Getting to the championship game was no easy task for the Wildcats. A 7-2 victory in the first round over Southeastern Oklahoma State moved the Wildcats into the winner’s bracket. In that game, Vancil pitched six innings, giving up only two hits and one run while striking out seven.
The second game of the tournament was the precursor to the championship game for the Wildcats, as they beat Angelo State 7-1. Three inning-ending double plays and a two-run homer by Watten highlighted the game.
Monday night’s matchup against Tarleton State may have been the most exciting game of the tournament. In a back-and-forth game in which no team had a lead of more than one run, the Wildcats were able to tie the game at 4-4 when left fielder Thomas Bumpass scored on a fielder’s choice in the seventh.
The game went into the ninth still tied at 4-4.
After two singles and a walk, the bases were loaded, and Willie Uechi stepped to the plate. Uechi hit a single to score Hall and drive in the goahead run. Rutherford allowed no runs in the ninth, and ACU held on for a 5-4 win to advance to the championship.
Vancil’s effort throughout the tournament was not overlooked by the LSC. After the championship game, Vancil took home the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
“It’s not something you think about,” Vancil said. “I am happy I got it, but the thought never crossed my mind until I heard my name called.”
Five other Wildcats made the all-tournament team. Uechi, Latz, Rutherford, Watton, and Bumpass were all recognized for their skill in the four tournament games.
Winning the tournament gives ACU the LSC’s automatic entry into the NCAA baseball tournament, which will be held next weekend. The location for those games will be announced Sunday night or Monday morning.
“I expected to do very well in the tournament,” Vancil said. “I feel like our team is built for post-season play.”