LITTLE ROCK -
Junior Chance Cleveland
threw five shutout innings and the UALR bullpen held Florida Atlantic (28-19, 16-7 Sun Belt) to three hits and a run over the final four innings as the Trojans (25-24, 11-14) picked up a 4-1 win over the first-place Owls in Friday's series opener at Gary Hogan Field. Cleveland (9-3) allowed just two hits and struck out eight batters to record his ninth win of the year and tie the UALR single-season record for victories.
The Owls outhit UALR 5-to-4 and racked up 14 strikeouts, but stranded 13 runners in the losing effort. The Trojans benefitted from some timely hitting as junior John Clark belted a solo homer in the third to give UALR a 1-0 lead, and senior Sean Bignall delivered a two-out, two-RBI single in the fifth.
"It was a good opening night win for us. Chance gave us five good innings, the bullpen threw really well and we got some big hits when we needed them," said UALR head coach Scott Norwood. "We made a few errors tonight and didn't have a lot of energy at times. Hopefully we can clean that up tomorrow and play with a little more emotion and build off of today's win."
Cleveland's ninth victory of the year moved him into a tie with Jacob Anderson (2000) and Carl Rowland (2000) for first place on the school's all-time list for single-season wins. The eight strikeouts, meanwhile, increased his Sun Belt-leading total to 92, which ties David Klumpp (2007) for third place on UALR's single-season chart. Sophomore Andrew Hohn held the Owls to three hits and one run over 2.1 innings in relief of Cleveland, and junior Bubba Cooper recorded the final five outs to pick up his second save of the year.
FAU starter Ryan Garton (8-3) took the loss after allowing four hits, four runs and five walks over 4.2 innings. Garton struck out eight Trojans before giving way to Bo Logan, who closed out the game by retiring the final 10 batters in-order - with six strikeouts.
The Trojans took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third as Clark picked up UALR's first hit off Garton with a solo homer to right center - his third of the year. FAU had threatened to take the lead in the top of the third as Mitch Morales worked his way over to third after reaching on a fielding error, but Cleveland struck out Corey Keller to strand Morales.
The Owls threatened again in the top of the fifth as Cleveland issued walks to Geoff Jimenez and Mike Albaladejo to put a pair of runners on base with one out. The Pine Bluff, Ark.-native battled back to get a fly out from Nathan Pittman, and then struck out Keller to leave runners on the corners.
UALR extended its lead to 3-0 in the bottom half after Garton issued consecutive walks with two outs on the board. After striking out the first two Trojans of the inning, senior Cameron Bentley and sophomore Ben Crumpton drew back-to-back walks off Garton. Both runners advanced on a double steal, and Bignall followed with a two-out, two-run single to left - bringing his season total to 61 RBI. Garton issued his third walk of the inning to senior Nick Rountree before junior Blake Johnson delivered a run-scoring single through the left side to give UALR a 4-0 lead and chase Garton from the game. Logan finally got the Owls out of the inning by getting a fly out to left from the first batter he faced.
Cleveland opened the sixth by walking FAU's first two batters, and the Trojans called on Hohn to protect the 4-0 lead. The Owls loaded the bases with no outs on the board as Alex Hudak greeted Hohn with a single up the middle. Hohn fanned Mike Spano for the first out of the inning, and then made a run-saving play by scooping up a bunt attempt by Jimenez with his glove and flipping it to Johnson to get a force out at the plate. With the bases loaded and two outs, Hohn forced FAU to strand all three runners as Johnson threw out Morales at first base on a swinging bunt.
FAU drew two more walks in the top of the seventh, but Hohn got an inning-ending fly out to right from Kyle Newton to strand the runners at second and third. The North Little Rock, Ark.-native wasn't as fortunate in the eighth, however, as the Owls finally got on the board after Hudak opened the frame with a leadoff double to right center. Hudak moved over to third on a Trojan fielding error, and scored the Owls' first run of the game off a RBI base knock up the middle from Morales.
Cooper came on to pitch with two runners on and one out, and got the Trojans out of the jam with back-to-back strikeouts of Albaladejo and Pittman. The Marion, Ark.-native then worked a perfect ninth to record his second save of the year.
UALR and Florida Atlantic return to action tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. Sunday's series finale has been pushed up to 12 p.m. to accommodate FAU's travel schedule.