The weather and environment combined for a delightful evening Wednesday at Bear Stadium.
Seniors Bryce Biggerstaff and Doug Votolato combined to make it a pleasant evening for University of Central Arkansas baseball fans, who turned out in the best numbers ever at the Southland Conference baseball tournament.
UCA defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 3-1, for its sixth-straight SLC tourney victory, going back to its amazing run to the title a year ago at Sugar Land, Texas.
On the wonderful evening for baseball (or just about anything else outdoor-related) a record 758 fans packed Bear Stadium.
Many were in the recently constructed party deck in left center, similar to what one would see at Mississippi State and other noted college baseball venues. At certain junctures in the game, it offered stereo cheering and razzing.
Fans gave a standing ovation as Biggerstaff, who has become a complete-game specialist, finished off a six-hitter with the help of some dandy defensive plays by Votolato in center field, shortstop Justin Treece and second baseman Chris Townsend.
"Biggerstaff’s a senior. He’s strong. He takes the ball and goes. Pitch counts don’t matter. Whatever it takes," said UCA coach Allen Gum, who watched the Bears nail down their 30th victory.
Votolato, from the leadoff position, was 4-for-5 with two of the three RBIs and two stolen bases.
"He can set the table and make things happen on the bases," said Gum, whose teams specialize in small ball.
Biggerstaff is a Friday night starter, usually the first game of a three-game series. One of the main purposes of a Friday night starter is to come as close as possible to a Friday night finisher.
"He’s been consistent and he gives us good starts and complete game after complete game," said Gum. "That saves our pitchers for the weekend. We didn’t have to use another pitcher tonight and that is huge in a tournament."
Last season, the Bears lost their opener, then had to win five games in three days to claim the championship and the NCAA berth.
"Going through the losers bracket is not easy to do," Gum said. "You’re playing afternoon games and it’s a strain on the pitching staff. I’d much rather do it this way."
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)