The University of Central Arkansas baseball team entered the Southland Conference tournament at a slippery slope and careening backward — losers of nine of 12 games and three straight league series.

What happened on a magical weekend in Sugar Land, Texas, represents one of the greatest achievements in UCA athletic history.

It’s not just about the Bears’ winning an SLC baseball title and advancing to a national tournament for the first time since 1959. It’s how they did it.

They got on a real Sugar Land high.

They won five elimination games in three days, two each on Friday and Saturday. They won back-to-back games against Oral Roberts, which had been to 15 straight conference championship games in other conferences.

Losing the first game of an eight-team, double-elimination baseball tournament is normally a death sentence. After being sent quickly into the losers bracket, most teams don’t have the spunk, the togetherness, the motivation or the pitching to defy elimination five straight times and win a title — especially against teams in a good, balanced conference.

UCA had the usual heroes — tourney MVP Forrestt Allday, Blake Marchal, Michael Marietta, Bryce Biggerstaff and Garrett Brown. But the Bears got something from every player who competed.

Among the little things that became big: Jonathan Davis taking Texas A&M-Corpus Christi out of a big inning with diving catch, then putting the game away with a grand slam, adding a walkoff single that drove in the winning run against Oral Roberts later Friday. Caleb McClanahan, on short rest, pitching a complete game that saved the Bears’ pitching staff from overwork (mandatory in losers bracket resurgence). Connor McClain and Clint Green shutting out ORU in key relief innings that bought the Bears time to win their second elimination game. Ethan Harris making a lunging catch in left field that was the No. 2 highlight play Saturday on ESPN SportsCenter.

Then, there was the gem in the title game — a two-hitter by freshman Connor Gilmore, who showed a lot of promise in a no-decision against a good-hitting Arkansas-Little Rock team a couple of weeks ago, probably convincing coach Allen Gum and his staff they had an ace in the hole for a championship game.

What these UCA players accomplished, with the season unraveling at a fast pace, showed character and perseverance.

It also indicates great chemistry. The Bears have kept plugging doing little things and big things and playing for each other as most championship teams do.

Gum was the most appropriate name for a head coach of this team — he craftily held this team together during tough times. And he didn’t dabble in lineup changes, crazy maneuvers in the batting order or tried to force-fit things. He and his staff stuck with their philosophy, never wavered in their approach and set up their pitching marvelously for the tournament. They waited for those inevitable breaks in baseball to cycle their way and instilled enough confidence in their players that fortunes could turn.

As often happens in baseball, when one or two players get a break or two and emerge from a slump, everybody does.

As they enter the NCAA tournament, these rookie Bears shouldn’t be taken lightly. They’ve beaten good teams from major conferences. They took two or three from Mississippi State, a No. 10 RPI team that is hosting the regional they will play in.

And the challenge before them will not be greater (and probably not as great) as the steady climb against bigtime odds in which they just emerged victorious.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)