The University of Central Arkansas Bears were a model of efficiency in their season opener on Friday.
The Bears parlayed only three hits into five runs in taking a 5-4 victory over Southern Illinois Edwardsville in a quick two hours, five minutes before a crowd of 527 at Bear Stadium.
The Bears went ahead for good with a two-run seventh inning where they loaded the bases and then got a two-out walk from senior second baseman Zack Dickson to tie the game at 4-4. Sophomore left fielder Ethan Harris was then hit by a pitch from SIUE reliever Travis Felaz for the 5-4 lead.
"We came out with what I thought was maybe a little case of nerves,’ said UCA head coach Allen Gum, who was making his UCA debut. "Or maybe it was their pitcher. He wasn’t throwing that hard but it looked like he was throwing the fastball on both sides for strikes. He kept us off balance, and maybe we were a little nervous also.
"But the good thing was we held in there with our pitching and defense, which were solid. Then we had some good offense, some good at-bats in the seventh. The walk and Harris’ hit by pitch, we just kind of put some pressure on them late. It wasn’t real pretty on that side of it. The offense wasn’t bad, the hitting was just OK. But I thought we barreled some up and hit a few right at them.
"Hopefully we’ll come out and be a little more aggressive with the bats tomorrow.’
The Bears got a solid start on the mound from senior Evan Cox, who went six innings, allowing six hits and striking out a career-high six batters. Junior right-hander Blake Payne came on to start the seventh inning and did not allow a hit or a walk over the final three innings to get the victory.
The Cougars (0-1) took a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning on three consecutive singles and an RBI base hit by third baseman Matt Highland. The Bears put up three runs in the bottom of the fifth when they recorded all three of their hits. Jonathan Houston drew a one-out walk and Kyle Prevett singled to right field, sending Houston to third.
Greg Noble’s sacrifice bunt scored Houston and put Prevett on second. Center fielder Jordan Getchell doubled down the left-field line to score Prevett, and Michael Pair followed with another double to the same spot that brought in Getchell for a 3-2 lead.
SIUE regained the lead with two runs in the sixth on an RBI triple by Devin Caldwell and a sacrifice fly by Zach Hawkins. Prevett walked to lead off the seventh and advanced on Noble’s sacrifice bunt. After Getchell struck out, Pair was hit by a pitch and Blake Roberts walked to load the bases for Dickson.
Pair, Prevett and Getchell had UCA’s only hits, while Caldwell and Mitch Matecki had two hits each for the Cougars. Reliever Josh Hoguet allowed three runs in 2.1 innings and took the loss.
"We had a good crowd and that was definitely exciting,’ said Gum. "It was a good, enjoyable atmosphere for baseball.’
The Bears and Cougars will resume the series at 1 p.m. Saturday and close with a 1 p.m. start on Sunday.