Trojans rebound, force rubber match
After losing 14-3 in the Sun Belt Conference series opener against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Friday, the Trojan baseball team forced a rubber match for Sunday’s finale, defeating the Hilltoppers 8-2 on Saturday, April 2, at Gary Hogan Field. UALR out hit WKU 14-9, including three Trojans with three hits.
“We showed a lot of character today,” UALR coach Scott Norwood said. “We’ve struggled. We haven’t really played awful, but haven’t been getting timely hits. We got a couple two-out hits at the end of the game that kind of relaxed us and broke us out and hopefully that momentum will carry over [into Sunday] as well.”
The Trojans (12-14, 3-5 SBC) picked up a much needed win after getting swept on the road by Troy the previous weekend and losing the first game of the series against Western Kentucky. The previous four conference games saw the Trojan starting pitching staff struggle with a 14.18 ERA, but UALR got a decent performance from senior Travis Henke (1-1, 3.06 ERA).
Henke pitched five innings, giving up two runs on nine hits, while striking out two in the no-decision. Senior lefty Ryan Juris (1-0, 5.73 ERA) relieved Henke in the sixth inning and picked up the win. Juris pitched four innings of hitless baseball, walking three and striking out three.
“He’s getting a lot better,” Norwood said of Juris. “He’s doing so much better about being more aggressive, so we have a great left-handed option out of the bullpen and even starting. We might do that too.”
The Hilltoppers (17-10, 6-2) scored a run in the top of the first inning when right-fielder Ryan Hutchison hit WKU’s third single in a row to left field for an RBI. Hutchison also hit Henke’s first pitch of the fifth inning over the left-center field fence to tie the game 2-2.
The Trojans scored its first run in the third inning when shortstop Greg Garcia hit a one-out double to left field and catcher Nick Rountree followed with an RBI single to right field two batters later. Garcia and Rountree each went 3-5, while junior designated hitter Justin Barnes went 3-4.
WKU starter Justin Hageman (4-3, 3.00 ERA) pitched six innings, giving up two runs on nine hits, and striking out seven. Hageman picked up the no-decision while reliever Ross Hammonds (0-1, 4.30 ERA) got the loss when he gave up four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The Hilltoppers looked as if they would get out of the inning with only two runs scoring, but catcher Matt Rice was called for catcher’s interference during Trojan left-fielder Sean Bignall’s at-bat, extending the inning. Junior center-fielder Cameron Bentley followed with a two-out, two-run single. Senior first baseman Jake Rowell had a two-out double in the bottom of the eighth inning that scored the last two runs for the Trojans.
“I thought we did a good job of making their guy have to work for some stuff,” Norwood said. “We shot the ball the other way better. I’m pleased. That was a big win. We needed to get that one.”