SUGAR LAND, Texas — The University of Central Arkansas’ Jonathan Davis had big hits in the morning and the afternoon Friday and Bryce Biggerstaff turned in a complete game as the Bears won two elimination games in the Southland Conference baseball tournament.
Davis had a grand slam in UCA’s 8-1 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and a walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth in a come-from-behind win over Oral Roberts, previously unbeaten in the tournament.
The Beards and the Golden Eagles will play a winner-take-all game at 9 a.m. Saturday to determine one of the teams in the title game later that day.
The resilient Bears (37-20), down 4-0 after four innings, put together another rally, scoring three runs in the fifth and adding single runs in the sixth and seventh innings. After ORU (25-31) tied it at 5-5 in the eighth, the Bears opened the ninth with a single by senior third baseman Garrett Brown. A sacrifice bunt by Justin Treece moved him to second and Forrestt Allday drew a two-out intentional walk.
Reliever Nathan Garza came on for the Golden Eagles and, on a 2-2 count, Davis hit a sharp single to left field and Brown slid home under a high throw to win it.
The Bears have now won three consecutive games after losing their tournament opener on Wednesday. UCA has also won a school record 37 games this season, with at least one more to play. The Bears and Golden Eagles will meet for a fifth time this season at 9 a.m. Saturday, playing to advance to the SLC Championship game.
"I think it just shows the character of our team," said Brown, who finished 3 for 5 with an RBI and two runs scored. "We’ve been down and battled adversity all year, and we just keep fighting until the end. A lot of us, we know we might not ever get to play again, so we keep fighting for each other.
"We’ve been battling it all year. We haven’t had timely hits when we needed them. And I think now everything is falling through at the right time. That’s just baseball.’
The Golden Eagles, who swept the season series in Tulsa back in March, got a run in the first inning off UCA starter Ethan McKinzie with a walk, a single and a ground out. ORU put up two more unearned runs in the second inning, starting with a bunt on which the Bears committed a pair of errors, allowing the first run to score. UCA threw the ball away on the initial bunt, then second baseman Blake Marchal fumbled the ball into the stands after retrieving it, letting the other run cross the plate.
ORU made it 4-0 in the fourth before UCA put a number up on the scoreboard. Davis reached on a dropped fly ball to open the frame, going all the way to third before Ethan Harris drove him in with a double to left center. Brown added an RBI single to score Harris and Justin Treece did the same for Scott Zimmerle to close the gap to 4-3.
An RBI single by Marietta tied it at 4-4 in the sixth before the Bears took their first lead in the seventh on Forrestt Allday’s sacrifice fly. ORU had a double by Nate Goro and an RBI single by Joey Migliaccio to tie it at 5-5, setting up UCA’s late heroics.
"He (Davis) had swung at two bad pitches, but he just kept fighting, kept working," said UCA coach Allen Gum. "He just found a hole. That’s what we did today. We didn’t stop, we didn’t quit. We just had a lot of heart, a lot of soul. That’s really all I can say, our guys just fought hard to the end."
UCA finished with 11 hits, with Treece and Marietta following Brown with two each. UCA senior Clint Green (4-2) got the victory with 3 2/3 innings of relief, allowing just 3 hits and 1 earned run. Davis had just one hit but it was just as big as his grand slam earlier in the day.
Davis’ four-run blast was the highlight of an eight-run seventh inning while Biggerstaff went the distance for the fourth time this season to save the Bears’ bullpen for Friday afternoon’s second game against undefeated Oral Roberts.
"Bryce did an awesome job," said UCA coach Allen Gum. "He pitches with his heart and soul, and he’s done that for us all year. And he came out here and did it again today."
Biggerstaff (5-4), a junior from Little Rock, was locked in a pitchers’ duel with Corpus Christi’s Matt Danton through six scoreless innings. But the Bears (36-20) sent 12 batters to the plate in the seventh inning.
"I was very confident in that at-bat,’ said Davis, a juinor All-SLC center fielder from Camden. "My coaches kept saying, ‘just finish, it’s going to happen.’ I’d been hitting the ball hard all year but it just wasn’t falling. As a matter of fact, I talked to my grandpa last night and he was like, hit one for me tomorrow, hit me a home run tomorrow. It just happened at the right time."