SAN MARCOS, Texas — The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks used the long ball to knock the University of Central Arkansas Bears out of the 2012 Southland Conference Tournament on Thursday afternoon during a 7-2 victory in an elimination game at Texas State’s Bobcat Ballpark.
SFA first baseman Bobby Loveless had a pair of home runs, including the deciding blow, a grand slam in the eighth inning that stretched a 3-2 lead to 7-2 for the sixth-seeded Lumberjacks.
UCA junior lefthander Jeffery Enloe (5-8) was in control for much of the game. He ran into trouble in the eighth after shortstop Griffin Glaude made a great play to throw out leadoff batter Rene Moreda from deep on the outfield grass to start the inning. Zach Benson then doubled down the left-field line and Enloe intentionally walked Hunter Dozier, his first walk of the day. Jarid Scarafiotti then drew a conventional walk to load the bases before Loveless blasted his grand slam to give him five RBI on the day.
"He (Loveless) hurt us today," said UCA coach Allen Gum. "Not only today but when we played them in the regular season, he just killed us. We felt like we knew how to pitch him but we missed a couple of spots. And every time we missed, he made us pay for it. He has tremendous power and if he catches one, it’s going to go a long way."
The Lumberjacks hit two home runs in the first three innings and grabbed a 3-1 lead in the top of the fourth. Dozier hit a solo blast to left in the first inning and added an RBI single in the third. Loveless added a solo home run to lead off the fourth inning for a 3-0 lead.
The Bears came back in the bottom of the frame when junior Ethan Harris led off with a double and moved to third on Bryan Willson’s base hit to center. Catcher Travis Snider reached on a fielder’s choice, scoring Harris
with UCA’s first run. A baserunning error gave the Lumberjacks an inning-ending double play to squelch the rally.
Enloe settled in and retired nine consecutive batters through the sixth inning and did not allow another run until the eighth. But the Bears squandered several chances. Snider was hit by a pitch to lead off the sixth inning and Garrett Brown was walked. SFA starter Cameron Gann was pulled in favor of Justin Choate, who coaxed a double play and a strikeout that ended the Bears’ threat.
After Enloe worked around a leadoff single in the seventh, Logan Moon started the bottom of the seventh with a single up the middle. Forrestt Allday’s sacrifice bunt moved Moon to second and SFA brought in closer Alex Moshier, who had not pitched in 11 days since facing the Bears in the regular-season series. Moshier hit Blake Marchal with a pitch to put runners at first and third with one out. But Harris popped up to right field and Bryan Willson lined out to shortstop to end it.
The Bears hit into their third double play of the day in the eighth and went in order in the ninth to finish at 25-30 overall.
"Getting to the tournament for the first time was big,’ said Gum, "but I think the biggest thing we gained this season was respect throughout the conference. We started the season with every coach and every SID voting us last in the league. And even the last weekend of the season, we had a chance to finish tied for third or fourth, somewhere in there."
"So we came a long way and I think we gained some respect. Our guys played really, really well, but we just didn’t at this tournament. And that’s just baseball sometimes. They got the big hits and we didn’t."
Enloe allowed 7 hits and struck out 5 with just two walks, one intentional.
Harris and Moon both finished 2 for 4 for the Bears, who had no errors after committing four in Wednesday’s first round. UCA was playing in it first SLC tournament since moving to NCAA Division I in 2007.
That step has been taken, and it’s a big step, getting to the tournament. It’s hard," Gum said. "The Southland has good teams and it’s a grind for 33 games to get here. Now it’s just building off that foundation each and every year."
Wednesday night, Southeastern Louisiana rallied in the middle innings to send the Bears into the losers bracket with a 6-3 victory.
The seventh-seeded Bears (25-29) led for 5 1/2 innings in their first postseason tournament appearance since moving to Division I. But once the second-seeded Lions (37-19) got the lead, reliever Dylan Hills and closer Stefan Lopez shut down the Bears, allowing one hit and striking out five over the final three innings.
UCA committed four errors and did not score after the fourth inning.
"Like I told the guys, we lost the freebies,’ said Allen Gum. "We had three walks, we hit them five times and we had four errors. And we only had three walks and they only had one error, so those were flipped. If we win those, bottom line is we win the game. And we were really one timely hit away."
After the Bears let the lead slip away in the sixth inning, they had to face the SLC reliever of the year. Lopez owns the SLC single-season and career records for saves and recorded his NCAA leading 20th against the Bears.