When preseason rankings came out for this season of Southland baseball, ACU was ranked tenth. However, ACU exceeded the preseason expectations by ending the season as the first seed coming into the Southland Conference Tournament. The Wildcats ended the regular season 34-19 with a conference record of 23-11.
The Wildcats 36-win season that conference play is the most-ever wins in a season in school history. It was also the first time in school history that ACU finished as the number one seed.
“It’s so difficult to put this season into words,” head coach Rick McCarty said. “We had a really good group, and I am very proud of them. We set out with some lofty goals and expectations in our third year as a coaching staff and a lot of their second or third year on campus. We got to fulfill those goals at the end of the year.”
ACU bested eighth-seeded Lamar on the first day of the tournament 7-1. Moving onto the second round, ACU faced fourth-seeded Texas A&M Corpus Christi 4-3 after coming from behind and scoring three runs in the eighth inning. ACU then faced the fifth-seeded Sam Houston in the semifinals on day three of the tournament. ACU lost the match of the semifinals 12-14, sending it into an elimination game. The winner of the second game against Sam Houston would continue to the finals to play McNeese state.
ACU struggled early in their second matchup against Sam Houston, with the Bearkats scoring eight runs in the first two innings. The Wildcats came into the bottom of the second scoreless until freshman second baseman Brett Hammit scored a home run with two runners on base, making the score 8-3. SHSU responded with another four-run inning of their own, making the score 12-3 the next at-bat at the top of the third.
Coming into the fourth inning, the score was 12-4 after junior designated hitter Tommy Cruz hit a sacrificial fly ball, bringing a runner in. ACU held Sam Houston to their first scoreless inning of the game, giving the Wildcats a chance to breathe.
Then, ACU put themselves into a scoring situation with the bases loaded with no outs. Sophomore catcher Mitchell Dickson was up to bat and singled to left field, bringing in a runner making the score 12-5. Another runner reached home after junior right fielder Colton Eager was hit by a pitch forcing a walk, making the score 12-6. ACU scored once more in the inning, shortening the lead to 12-7.
After six innings of baseball, the score was 13-9, with an impending elimination to the losing team. Sam Houston scored twice more in the seventh, making the score 15-9 after the bases were loaded, and junior pitcher Tanner Riley allowed a double and then walked a batter before ending the inning.
It was 15-9 with ACU at-bat in the bottom of the seventh. Dickson opened the inning for ACU with a single, and the next batter was called out. Eager came up to bat with two outs remaining and Dickson on first base. Eager was hit by a pitch forcing a walk allowing Dickson to advance to second and have runners on first and second as Cruz came up to bat. Cruz also singled, loading the bases.
Then, freshman left fielder Miller Ladusau came up to bat and ultimately hit a grand slam, clearing the bases making the score 15-13. This was Ladusau’s eighth homer of the season, with his previous homer coming two days prior against Texas A&M Corpus-Christi.
Riley held off SHSU to give ACU a chance coming into the bottom of the eighth to tie the game. Hammit began the inning for ACU at-bat and hit a fly ball to left field that was caught. The next two batters were struck out, ending the eighth inning with a quick one, two, three out. Riley once again held off SHSU, leaving it all up to the ACU offense going into the bottom of the ninth down 15-13.
Sam Houston put their closer in to start the ninth with ACU down by two. Sophomore center fielder Grayson Tatrow came up to start the inning for ACU. Tatrow hit a fly ball to left field that was caught, leaving Eager up to bat with two outs remaining. Eager also hit a fly ball to left field that was caught, leaving ACU with one out remaining. Cruz came up to bat next and hit a ground ball to second base that was thrown to first base before Cruz got there, resulting in an out.
The game ended with the out at first, resulting in ACU losing 15-13. This loss brought an end to the Wildcats’ historic season. This season was also ACU’s final season in the Southland, and ACU will join the Western Athletic Conference starting next year.
“Success breeds success; this group raised the bar for ACU baseball,” McCarty said. “The expectation, as we have discussed, is not .500, is not to make the tournament, but it’s to win championships.”