LITTLE ROCK -
UALR (17-17, 4-9 Sun Belt) banged out 19 hits on its way to an 18-7 victory over South Alabama (12-22, 7-6) in the series opener at Gary Hogan Field on Friday night. Junior Blake Johnson
went 4-for-5 at the plate with three runs scored and five RBI, and senior Sean Bignall
and sophomore Ben Crumpton
combined to score nine runs in the win.
Bignall reached base in all six plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with five runs scored and one RBI, while hitting his Sun Belt-leading 13th home run of the year. Crumpton went 3-for-5 at the plate with four runs scored and two RBI, to help UALR reach double-digits in runs for the first time since March 14.
"It was nice to get back home for a few days and have some time to practice and work on some things that we've been struggling with going into this series," said UALR head coach Scott Norwood. "It was kind of a breakout game for us. We'd lost so many close games recently, that it was nice to hit the ball like we had been at the start of the year and have some things go our way. Now we just have to come out and repeat that effort tomorrow."
Junior Chance Cleveland went the distance for UALR to improve to 7-2 on the year. Cleveland allowed 10 hits and seven runs to the Jaguars, as five of USA's runs came off three homers. The Sun Belt's strikeout leader, Cleveland fanned nine Jaguars to increase his season total to 68 strikeouts over 62.1 innings.
USA starter Phillip Byrd took the loss to fall to 3-2 on the year after allowing six hits and six runs over 4.0 innings. The Jaguars were outhit 19-to-10 in the game, despite multi-hit efforts from four players.
Both offenses came out swinging at the start of the game, with the Jaguars taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first as Jordan Patterson followed up a walk by Whitt Dorsey with a two-run homer to right. USA's 2-0 edge didn't last long however, as the Trojans pushed across two runs in the bottom half to even things up. Crumpton drew a one-out walk to get things going for UALR, and Bignall ripped his 10th double of the year to left center to put runners on second and third. Senior Nick Rountree put UALR on the board with an RBI groundout to short, and Johnson delivered a two-out, RBI double down the left field line to make it a 2-2 ballgame.
UALR turned to the long ball in the bottom of the third to take a 4-2 lead. Bignall started things off with a rocket to centerfield, and Johnson followed two batters later with a two-out, solo homer to right center - his second of the year. South Alabama answered with its second home run of the game in the top of the fourth to make it a 4-3 contest, as Brad Hook hit a solo homer to deep right.
Leading 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth, UALR's first two batters reached base to chase Byrd from the game, as Crumpton doubled down the left field line and Bignall was hit by a pitch. Rountree advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt off reliever Jarrett Bailey, and Johnson put the Trojans on top 6-3 with a two-run double to the left field corner. UALR loaded the bases with two outs on the board as Bailey put junior Myles Parma on base with an intentional walk and then issued a free pass to sophomore Bryson Thionnet. With the bags full and two outs, junior David Guarno singled through the right side to score a pair of runners and extend UALR's lead to five runs, 8-3.
UALR tacked on four more runs in the bottom of the sixth after its first two batters reached base for the second-straight inning. Crumpton (singled) and Bignall (hit by pitch) got on base to start the rally and set the stage for three-consecutive RBI singles from Johnson, junior Chris Burk and Parma. Guarno capped off the scoring with a two-out, RBI base knock through the right side to put the Trojans ahead 12-3.
The Jaguars went quietly for the next three innings after Hook's home run in the fourth, as Cleveland allowed just one hit over the fifth, sixth and seventh. USA's bats came to life in the eighth, however, as the Jaguars rallied for four runs to draw within five, 12-7. Drew Cofield delivered the biggest blow of the inning with a pinch-hit, two-run homer to right - his first of the year. Nick Zaharion plated a run with a RBI base knock, and Robby Campbell capped off the four-run frame with a two-out, RBI single to left.
With its lead cut to five, the Trojans put up a six spot in the bottom half to take an 18-7 lead and put the game out of reach. UALR's first two batters drew a walk, and Crumpton plated both with a triple to the right field corner. The Trojans pushed across four more runs in the frame, as junior John Clark added a run-scoring single to right and Parma hit a two-run double to left center. Cleveland came back out in the ninth and worked his way around two singles to record his second-consecutive complete game.
UALR and South Alabama return to action tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m.