The University of Central Arkansas Bears secured their first Southland Conference Tournament berth on Friday night with a rousing 13-4 victory over league-leader Sam Houston State at Bear Stadium.
The Bears (25-27, 16-16) will make the eight-team field for the tournament, which begins Wednesday at Texas State in San Marcos, Texas. The Bears and Bearkats meet in the regular-season finale at 1 p.m. Saturday for “Senior Day” at Bear Stadium.
UCA spotted SHSU a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but quickly tied it in the bottom of the inning on senior Bryan Willson’s RBI double. The Bearkats (35-18, 23-9) got another run in the second before the Bears put the game away with nine runs in the third.
UCA sent 14 batters to the plate and scored nine runs on just six hits. Senior Blake Roberts and juniors Forrestt Allday and Ethan Harris all had two-run singles in the inning, while senior Travis Snider and freshman Griffin Glaude added an RBI each.
After loading the bases with no outs in the first inning, UCA junior right hander Caleb McClanahan (6-4) settled in and threw eight solid innings against the league’s No. 2 hitting team. He allowed 11 hits, 4 earned runs and struck out 5 against one walk to earn his team-high sixth victory.
Junior Bryce Biggerstaff closed it out with a perfect ninth inning, getting the final out on a fly ball to center field, igniting the celebration on the field for the Bears, who will be making their first postseason appearance since moving to NCAA Division I for the 2007 season.
Wilson, one of six seniors who will be honored in a pregame ceremony Saturday, led the offensive charge, going 3 for 5. Allday was 2 for 4 with three RBI and two runs scored, while Harris was 2 for 5 with two RBI and two runs scored. All nine UCA starters scored at least once and seven knocked in at least one run.
SHSU had 11 hits but managed only four runs. The Bearkats avoided the run rule with a solo home run by John Hale in the seventh inning. Greg Olson, Ryan O’Hearn and Hale had two hits each for the Bearkats, who have already secured the No. 1 seed for the tournament.