LITTLE ROCK - The UALR baseball team (10-8, 0-1) dropped its conference opener to the Arkansas State Red Wolves (12-6, 1-0) by a final score of 6-3 on Friday night from Gary Hogan Field. Starting pitcher Chance Cleveland was handed his third loss of the season as the Pine Bluff native was tagged for five runs, four of them earned, in 6.1 innings of work.
Offensively, the Trojans were led by juniors Ben Crumpton and Austin Pfeiffer. Crumpton went 3-for-4 on the night with one run scored and extended his hitting streak to 11 games. Pfeiffer went 2-3 at the dish with a pair of runs scored, while senior Blake Johnson finished his night going 1-for-4 with two RBIs.
It took only two batters for Arkansas State to take an early lead on the Sun Belt's Preseason Pitcher of the Year. A lead-off single, followed by a wild pitch and an RBI-single to right field from Collin Massaneli off of Cleveland, quickly put the Red Wolves ahead 1-0 in the top of the first inning. Arkansas State didn't stop there, scoring two more runs in the frame. With two outs and runners on second and third, a wild pitch brought home Massaneli from third and the throw to the plate got away from Cleveland, scoring Ryan Emery all the way from second base and putting the Red Wolves on top 3-0.
At the plate, the first time through the lineup for the Trojans was an uphill battle as ASU starting pitcher Daniel Wright retired the first nine batters of the Trojan's lineup. The second time through the order went in UALR's favor, however, as the Trojans strung out three hits in the fourth inning, capped by a two-out RBI-single to left field off the bat of senior John Clark. The base hit brought home Pfeiffer for UALR's first run of the evening. After four complete frames, UALR trailed Arkansas State 3-1.
Cleveland settled down after a tough first inning, shutting out the Red Wolves for five consecutive frames and giving the UALR offense an opportunity to climb its way back into the game.
UALR did just that in the bottom of the sixth inning, scoring a pair of runs to tie the game at three runs apiece. A lead-off single by Crumpton and a walk by Pfeiffer set the table for Johnson who roped a two-run double to centerfield. Clark followed with a walk and it appeared that the Trojans would tack on more runs, but a controversial 1-5-4-3 triple play the very next batter ended the inning.
On the play, junior Bryson Thionnet popped up an attempted sacrifice bunt to ASU's pitcher Seth McWilliams who instinctively let the ball drop in front of him rather than catch it. As a result, McWilliams was able to get the force out at each base as the Trojan's base runners were left out to dry.
With the momentum shifted back into the visitor's dugout, the Red Wolves scored two runs in the top half of the seventh inning, extending their lead to 5-3 over UALR. ASU added an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning courtesy of an RBI-double by Massanelli that pushed its lead to 6-3.
UALR threatened to score in the home half of the eighth inning with runners on second and third base and one out, but ASU's John Koch was able to pitch his way out of the jam by recording a strikeout and a fly-out. Koch retired the UALR side in order in the bottom of the ninth, sealing the ASU win.
UALR returns to action tomorrow afternoon for game two of this weekend series against ASU. Senior Blake Huffman is scheduled to get the start on the mound for the Trojans, while the Red Wolves will send out sophomore Chandler Hawkins. First pitch from Gary Hogan Field is scheduled for 4 p.m.