By Calhoun Hipp
CONWAY, Ark. —
Southeastern Louisiana went to the arm of relief pitcher Tate Scioneaux in the championship game of the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament to defeat Central Arkansas 9-4 to claim the school’s first league title.
The win also locked up the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Division I Championship, which will be the Lions’ third overall and first appearance since 1994.
The fifth-seeded Lions (37-23) claimed their first title after reaching the championship game the previous two seasons, including a 4-0 loss in last year’s championship game to the Bears. The loss snapped Central Arkansas’ eight-game tournament winning streak.
Scioneaux, the tournament most valuable player, came into the game in the fourth inning. The Bears scored four runs before Scioneaux entered the game. The righthander shut out Central Arkansas in the final 5 1/3 innings, giving up only four hits and a walk with eight strikeouts.
“I asked for the ball,” Scioneaux said. “I told (head coach Matt Riser) that I had some outs in me. He said he was going to pull me in the seventh, and I told him, ‘no, one more coach.’ And then the eighth inning came, and I told him that I am going to finish this.”
For the tournament, Scioneaux pitched 11 innings of scoreless ball while striking out 12 hitters and only surrendering nine hits and two walks. Scioneaux threw 91 pitches to pick up his first save of the year.
“He came to me last night and said, ‘Coach, I want the baseball at some point in time tomorrow. I know we are going with Andro (Cuturo), but I feel great and I am ready to go. So if you get the chance to give it to me, I want it.’ You could hear it,” Riser said. “You could hear it was definitely from the heart. It wasn’t just a coach speech or player speech, it was a true genuine ‘I want the baseball.’ And you saw it when he went in there and shut the door.”
Jason Greenleaf picked up the win for the Lions after 1.2 innings of work. Greenleaf, who moved to 1-0 on the year, gave up two unearned runs on three hits while striking out one. UCA starter Bryce Biggerstaff lasted only into the second inning after six runs, four earned, on seven hits and one walk. He struck out one in falling to 7-6 on the year.
Southeastern jumped on the board early, pushing six runs across in the first two innings.
In the top of the first, the Lions loaded the bases with a Jacob Seward single, Jameson Fisher fielder’s choice error and a Brett Hoffman walk. Daniel Midyett drove in the game’s first run with an infield single to pitcher Bryce Biggerstaff. Midyett’s shot hit off Biggerstaff’s glove, but it was too hot from the UCA pitcher to handle, which allowed Seward to score. Fisher would eventually score the second Southeastern run when Sam Roberson grounded out to second base.
Singles by Seward and Fisher and a hit by a pitch by Andrew Godbold loaded the bases again for the Lions in the second inning. Southeastern would then bring four more runs across with two consecutive two-RBI singles from Hoffman and Midyett.
UCA would chip away from the Lions’ lead in the bottom half of the second inning. Tyler Langley and Scott Zimmerle would reach base for the Bears to start the inning. After both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt from Justin Treece, Langley would come around to score on a sacrifice fly from Charles Deckard. Doug Votolato would get his eighth hit and fifth RBI of the tournament with an infield single, bringing home Zimmerle to make the score 6-2.
The Bears added two more runs in the fourth inning after loading the bases with singles from Deckard and Carson Dowdle and Wesley Hoover reaching on a fielding error. Chris Townsend would pick up an RBI after being hit by a pitch and Nate Ferrell would draw an RBI walk.
The Lions answered the Bears’ four consecutive runs with a run the sixth inning. After Jacob Williams doubled to third base, Fisher brought home his first RBI of the tournament with a single to center field to up the Lions’ lead to 7-4.
“That’s baseball,” Scioneaux said. “You are going to have your up and downs, but you just have to keep grinding. And in the end, hope it is in your favor.”
The Lions put the game out of reach in the eighth inning by tacking on two more runs. Southeastern put together a two-out rally with three consecutive hits from Seward, Fisher and Godbold. Godbold’s single drove in Seward and Fisher to give the Lions the 9-4 lead.
“That Central Arkansas ball club is a tough ball club,” Riser added. “It looked like we were going to run away with it, but they put the pressure on and put the pressure on, but it was a fantastic job by Tate Scioneaux coming in and finishing it off. The kids gave it everything they had because they wanted it. This is the ultimate goal. It was a motivating force for us with the last few years being runner up.”
The Lions will find out where they will go in the NCAA tournament on Monday. The tournament selection show will be televised on ESPNU at 11 a.m., CT.
Central Arkansas finished its season 32-22 after reaching the championship game for the second consecutive year.
“I am extremely proud of these guys,” Bears head coach Allen Gum said. “Even though we didn’t finish our goal of winning the championship, we came together. We battled a lot of adversity this year with injuries and lot of different things. They came together at the end, and I am proud as heck with these guys. They fought hard and finished hard. That is what we talked about was to fight the good fight and finish the course and have faith.”