Stranded base-runners hindered the Wildcats from clinching its third-straight series this past weekend.
The baseball team split a four-game set with the East Central University Tigers on Sunday.
Game one of the series resulted in a dramatic 6-5 victory for the ‘Cats.
A doubleheader was played on Saturday. East Central took both seven-inning games winning, 5-3 then 11-6.
Sunday, the Wildcats managed to earn a 5-2 win, salvaging the series.
ACU has improved its season record to 10-5, while ECU dropped to 10-8. The ‘Cats have won or split every series this year.
Head coach Britt Bonneau said he was unhappy with the team’s overall play.
“We didn’t hit the ball as well as we’ve been hitting it,” Bonneau said. He felt the team wasn’t properly prepared for the competition.
First baseman Mark Bailey was the difference in the opening game. He hit a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth inning, pushing the Wildcats from a 5-4 deficit to a 6-5 lead.
Bonneau said Bailey had the best chance, in that situation, at tying or giving the team the lead.
ACU was ahead 2-0 at Crutcher Scott Field until the Tigers put up two runs in the fifth and three in the sixth.
The ‘Cats answered with two of its own in the bottom of the sixth to make it 5-4. Senior Duncan Blades reached base on a hit by pitch and advanced to third on a Chuck Duarte single. Emmett Niland would bring in Blades and Duarte with a single to right field.
The bullpen kept it a one-run contest by not allowing ECU to cross the plate in the seventh and eighth. Abilene Christian closer Josh Stone danced out of trouble in the ninth after a leadoff single and a wild pitch. He also earned his third save of the season.
“I was happy with our bullpen and how it performed this weekend,” Bonneau said. “They did what they needed to do.”
Sophomore relief pitcher Brady Rodriguez said the bullpen did its designed job.
“The bullpen came in throwing strikes,” Rodriguez said. “We’re confident in our defense. It’s good when our relievers can come in and throw strikes and get guys out.”
Starting pitcher Aaron Lambrix went 5 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on four hits and striking out six. Rodriguez nabbed the win in relief (2-0).
Saturday was a day to forget for the Wildcats. In game one the team came from behind twice. Bailey was involved in both plays as he smacked an RBI single in the second inning to knot it up at 1-1, then he tied it 3-3 on a pitcher’s throwing error in the fourth.
The ‘Cats seemed to lose its focus in the top half of the fifth. Two routine fly balls were dropped in the outfield, resulting in two runs for the Tigers.
ECU starter Erik Fredrick (3-0) cruised the rest of the way, allowing just two hits in the final 3.0 innings. ACU had a great opportunity in the sixth to score when pinch hitter Ryan Luckie tripled with one-out however, he was left stranded at third.
East Central jumped ahead 5-0 in the nightcap and as a result, the Wildcats could never fully recover.
The closest the team came was being down 5-4 after a four-run fifth but the Tigers would score seven more runs over the last three innings, smashing any hopes of victory.
“The bullpen struggled in that game,” Rodriguez said. “In a game like that walks and errors are the most dangerous part of innings.”
The ‘Cats stranded 14 runners total on Saturday.
“We’ve got to do a better job of hitting with guys in scoring position,” Bonneau said.
The final game of the series was a thriller in the late innings. With a 3-2 Abilene Christian lead in the top of the seventh, ECU managed to put runners on second and third with no outs. But Stone struck Greg Hamrock out on a high fastball and then got Josh Schmidt to fly out to right.
Bonneau brought in Rodriguez to retire the final batter of the inning.
Rodriguez came out in the eighth and allowed two two-out singles, however an inning-ending ground ball to short stopped the threat.
In the ninth, down 5-2, East Central again brought the tying run (Rick Hepworth) to the plate. Junior Michael Curtis put out the fire though as he struck him out to end the game.
ACU’s Austin Palmer had a good showing for his third start of the season. He pitched 5.0 innings allowing just one run on five hits.