The University of Central Arkansas Bears will close out the home portion of their baseball season with a lot riding on the outcome of their three-game Southland Conference series with Southeastern Louisiana.
The third-place Bears (30-18, 16-8) and second-place Lions (32-18, 19-8) started the series Friday at Bear Stadium, with senior Tyler Gray (6-1) on the mound for UCA and Josh Green (6-4) pitching for the Lions.
Both teams trail No. 1 Sam Houston State (19-5).
The Bears have another series remaining next weekend at Nicholls State, while the Lions close out their SLC slate this weekend.
UCA is riding the momentum of a season-high seven-game winning streak, including a pair of blowouts against in-state rivals Arkansas State (14-3) on Tuesday and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (25-5) on Wednesday night.
In the two victories, UCA outscored its opponents 39-8 and tallied 34 hits, including 14 extra-base hits (four home runs).
For the week, the Bears, second in the league in hitting at .291, hit a blistering .442. Junior left fielder Hunter Strong was a combined 7-for-8 with 13 RBI (six vs. ASU, seven vs. UAPB), including five doubles and a home run.
Dating back to the series finale at Abilene Christian last Sunday, the Bears scored a total of 55 runs, which is the best three-game total in the NCAA Division I era.
UCA will also be celebrating Graduation Day on Saturday prior to first pitch for four Bears (Michael Haun, Dusty Wright, Will Brand, Justin McCarty) who missed their official UCA graduation ceremonies during last week's road trip to Abilene.
On Sunday, 11 players will celebrate Senior Day with their teammates and with their mothers on Mother's Day, with the mothers all throwing out ceremonial first pitches.
That group of seniors has combined to win 122 games and made four straight appearances in the SLC Tournament.
The Bears are coming off an SLC sweep last weekend at Abilene Christian, while the Lions took two of three from SHSU in Huntsville, Texas.
The home team has swept the series the past two years, with SLU winning all three in Hammond, Louisiana, last season and UCA going 3-0 in 2016 in Conway.
The win over UAPB on Wednesday gave UCA its 30th victory of the season, hitting that mark for the fourth time in the past six seasons under Coach Allen Gum.
UCA won at least 30 in 2013, 2014, 2017 and now 2018.
The 16 SLC victories this season is one short of tying the program's best of 17 in both 2014 and 2017.
The Bears have won at least 10 league games in all eight seasons under Gum.
The Bears, who are 8-1 in their last nine home games at The Bear, have the second-best batting average in the SLC at .291, while the Lions have the No. 2 earned-run average at 3.29.
UCA is also first in runs scored (334), RBI (306), slugging percentage (.413) and fielding percentage (.980).
SLU's pitching staff is No. 1 in opponent batting average (.244) and the Lions lead the league, by a wide margin, in stolen bases with 122.
The top eight teams make the field for the 2018 SLC Tournament, to be played at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas, on May 23 through 26.
UCA and SLU met in consecutive championship games in 2013 and 2014, with the Bears winning the first year and the Lions the second.
UCA has reached the title game three times in the past five seasons.
If the season was over today, the eight teams to receive berths would be SHSU, SLU, UCA, Houston Baptist, McNeese State, Incarnate Word, Northwestern State and Nicholls.
SHSU hosts fourth-place Houston Baptist this weekend and finishes the season at sixth-place UIW, so a first-place finish is not out of reach for either SLU or UCA.
Game times remaining this weekend are 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.