The Wildcats christened their newly turfed and renovated field with a win Friday night over the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros. The 5-2 victory moves ACU to 1-0 on the season and gives them the series opening win with a double header on Saturday and the finale on Sunday.
Senior Kyle Carroll appeared to be in mid-season form for ACU. The once starting shortstop for the Wildcats made his first start on the mound and got the win while putting in six innings of work and giving up three hits, an unearned run, one walk and striking out four. Carroll was able to keep the ball on the ground, forcing Rio Grande into nine groundouts and giving up just one extra base hit.
“I thought today all started on the mound with Kyle Carroll,” head baseball coach Britt Bonneau said. “He gave us six innings which was great. He threw strikes early and often. He commanded the zone while having off-speed stuff that was working. And when he was forced to field, he used that shortstop glove to make tough plays.”
The Wildcats struck early and often to start the game, scoring in the first two innings. Senior designated hitter Heath Beasley drove in junior third baseman Aaron Draper, who led off the game with a walk and a stolen base, on a sac fly to give the Wildcats the lead. In the second, ACU was able to get its eight and nine hole guys on, allowing freshman center fielder Hunter Markwardt to drive a man in with the RBI single.
Senior catcher Alex Copeland and freshman right fielder Willie Harris came up big for the Wildcats on Opening Day. The two went a combined 5-for-8 while scoring three runs and driving in a run all out of the bottom of the order.
In the top of the third inning, the Vaqueros got things started with back-to-back singles to put runners on first and second with no outs, trailing 2-0. Carroll would force a fly out to Markwardt in center, who then came up with an accurate throw to get the runner tagging back at second base for the force out, turning the double play to end the Rio Grande rally.
“I thought that was a big moment in the game early on,” Bonneau said. “They did a good job of putting the ball in the field and forcing us to make plays. But our defense was solid tonight, made a few tough plays and really picked Kyle up when he needed it.”
The Wildcats would add on another run in the fourth inning when Harris scored on a passed ball with two outs to make it 3-0 ACU. Rio Grande would get the run back in the following at-bat. After a one out double by junior second baseman Joseph Collazo, Carroll got the next batter to pop out in foul territory on the first base side. Collazo tagged to third base and an errant throw from freshman shortstop Mark Pearson, who had been solid for ACU up until that point, allowed Collazo to cross home.
“We’ve got a lot of freshman out here and sometimes they try to do too much, but it’s all a part of learning,” Bonneau said.
With the score at 3-2, the Wildcats picked up two big runs in the seventh inning to make things a little more comfortable for the ACU faithful in attendance. With two outs and the bottom third part of the lineup coming up, ACU strung together three straight hits, as Harris drove in junior transfer left fielder Braxton Wilks. The Wildcats then put the double-steal on, allowing Harris to steal from first base and Copeland moving from third to home, sliding under the catcher to avoid the tag.
Senior reliever Nate Cole was the first out of the bullpen for Bonneau. He was solid, giving up one earned run, two hits, two strikeouts in two innings of relief. In the eighth inning, Cole worked himself into a one out, bases loaded situation. He got the groundout, allowing the one runner, and then forced another ground ball for the final out of the inning with the lead intact, 5-2.
Senior Brandon Lambright put the nail in the coffin, striking out two and walking one to earn the save.
“It was a good win, it’s always nice to get the first one, but we have to start looking towards the next one,” Bonneau said. “Tomorrow is going to be a long day with the double header, so we have to be prepared for that.”