FORT SMITH, Ark. – UAFS scored a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to break open a tie game for good on its way to a hard-fought 6-4 nonconference win against the Ecclesia Royals on Wednesday at Crowder Field.
UAFS won its third consecutive game to start the season and extended its best start since joining NCAA Division II five seasons ago. The Lions will put that hot start to the test this weekend when they travel to Edmond, Okla., to play the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos in a three-day, three-game series beginning on Friday.
With the game tied at four runs apiece going into the bottom of the seventh inning, UAFS mounted a two-out rally against Ecclesia reliever Justin Southerland. Right fielder Koby Chadick doubled down the left field line and catcher Justin Shealy was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second.
Second baseman Ryan Gros launched his offering from Southerland into center field for what looked like an inning-ending out, but Royals center fielder Alec Naifeh let the lazy fly ball slip off his glove, allowing Chadick and Shealy, who both were running on contact, to score.
Southerland got shortstop Ozzie Hurt to ground out to end the inning, but the damage was done.
The Royals had the tying runs on base in the top of the eight, but Diamond Lions reliever Collin Ogilvie got shortstop Michael Sage to fly out to Chadick in right field. Chadick then launched a perfect throw to third baseman Ryan Justus, who tagged out Royals third baseman Caleb Kelley who was trying to advance to third for the final out.
Diamond Lions closer Blaise Warrick gave up a one-out single to Naifeh in the ninth, but Naifeh was thrown out trying to steal second. Warrick then got Royals right fielder Shane Pepper to ground out to shortstop to earn his first save in as many opportunities.
UAFS collected eight hits off four of the five Ecclesia pitchers. Southerland (0-1) suffered the loss, allowing two unearned runs on one hit with one strikeout in one inning of work. The Royals allowed only one earned run because of three errors.
Designated hitter Josh Vanderpool was 3 for 5 with one RBI to lead UAFS, which left eight runners on base. Center fielder Curtis Clark was 2 for 4, Chadick was 1 for 3 with a double and one RBI and first baseman Brennan Rogers was 1 for 2 with a triple.
Diamond Lions reliever Devin Hampton (1-0), who was the third of five UAFS pitchers, earned the win, allowing one earned run on one hit with three walks and seven strikeouts in three innings.
Second baseman Gerry Sifuentes and Sage were each 1 for 3 with one RBI for the Royals, who left seven runners on base. Catcher Osvaldo Rosas was 1 for 4 with one RBI.