LITTLE ROCK – A back-and-forth affair eventually went UALR’s way Wednesday night at Gary Hogan Field, with Tanner Rockwell coming through in the clutch to give UALR a tight 7-6 victory over Central Arkansas and split the season series with the Bears.
Austin Pfeiffer had a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth to give UALR a 5-2 lead, but the Bears worked their way back into the contest to take a 6-5 lead in the eighth.
That’s when Rockwell put UALR (17-22) ahead of UCA (22-16) for good. With the bases loaded and one out, Rockwell smacked a ground-ball single into left field, bringing home Petr Sila and Hayden Martin for the 7-6 Trojans lead. Rockwell’s night didn’t stop there, though, as he came back out in the top of the ninth inning to close the game and earn his third save of the year.
Chad Bradford started the evening for UALR, making it through eight batters before being pulled in the second. Ethan Schlechte pitched 3.1 innings, seeing more time on the mound than any UALR pitcher and striking out three. Dyllon Brownmiller saw 2.1 innings of work and was in line for the loss before Rockwell’s heroics at the plate gave Brownmiller (1-0) the win.
UCA won 5-4 in the teams’ previous meeting in Conway last month, but the Trojans made sure to tie the season series with consistent hitting throughout the night. UALR ended the game with eight hits to UCA’s 13, but the Trojans made theirs count.
Pfeiffer – who extended his hitting streak to seven games – and Rockwell combined for five hits and five RBIs, while Ben Crumpton and Justin Steelmon had RBIs on their only hits of the night. Sila and Pfeiffer scored twice each.
Bradford had a strong first inning, inducing three quick outs and retiring the Bears in order. But UCA got on the board in the second inning thanks to a double by Tyler Langley. With Langley on second, Matt Anderson hit a deep fly ball to left field that was caught and then bobbled by Sila. Tagging up on the out anyway, Langley was able to round third and score as Sila couldn’t control the ball cleanly.
From there, Bradford allowed a walk and another hit, and his day was done after facing just eight batters. Schlechte struck out the first batter he faced to get the Trojans out of the inning.
UALR got that run back and then took the lead in the bottom of the third thanks to the speed of Crumpton and timely hitting by Pfeiffer. After a Crumpton single, Pfeiffer doubled down the left field line. With the count full on that pitch, Crumpton was already running and motored home easily to knot the score at 1-1. Pfeiffer scored from third two batters later when Steelmon hit an RBI groundout to second base, and it was a 2-1 Trojans lead.
UALR’s advantage didn’t hold for long, though, as Langley doubled again in the top of the fourth and eventually scored from third on a single up the middle from Justin Treece. That re-tied the contest at 2-2.
The Trojans took their largest lead of the game in the next half-inning, though it didn’t hold for long. Sila was hit by a pitch from UCA starter Scott Zimmerle, and Sila made the most of it by stealing second and third base. After a Drew McMurry walk, Crumpton brought Sila home with a sacrifice fly. The next batter really broke the game open, as Pfeiffer blasted a two-run homer to left-center field to make it 5-2 UALR.
The Bears were not done, though, scoring two in the top of the fifth to cut their deficit to just one. A Nate Ferrell double scored Doug Votolato, and Langley’s third double of the afternoon scored Ferrell right after that.
In the top of the eighth, the Bears knotted the game for the third time of the evening and then took the lead. A Charles Deckard triple brought Matt Anderson home from first base. Deckard was thrown out at home on a Brad Dillenberger ground ball to Crumpton at third base, but a Votolato single put runners on the corners right afterward. Dowdle had what looked to be the hit of the night in the next at-bat, dribbling a grounder down the third-base line. The ball inched its way up the line, and catcher Drew Merten let it go in the hopes it would go foul. Instead, the ball settled on the line itself, and Dillenberger scored on the infield single as Merten had no play at first.
But that set up the dramatic two-RBI single through the left side by Rockwell, bringing the season-high crowd of 471 to its feet in celebration. Rockwell needed five batters to get the game’s last three outs in the top of the ninth, but he struck out Deckard looking to end the night.
UALR now heads on the road for a Sun Belt Conference series at WKU. The Trojans and Hilltoppers open the series Friday at 6 p.m.