SAN MARCOS, Texas — The University of Central Arkansas Bears will make their debut in the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament against a team they beat two out of three times earlier this season.
The Bears, who drew the No. 7 seed in the tournament, will open against No. 2 Southeastern Louisiana at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Texas State’s Bobcat Ballpark.
UCA won the final two games of the three-game series in Hammond, La., on the weekend of April 5-7. That turned out to be the only conference series the Bears won on the road this season. The Bears, who won five of six series at home, took the final game 4-3 in 10 innings when catcher Travis Snider bunted in Ethan Harris with the game-winning run.
UCA won 16 SLC games this year, the most since moving to NCAA Division I in 2007. The Bears tied for sixth place with Stephen F. Austin in the final standings but drew the seventh seed by way of the tiebreaker. The winner of the UCA-SLU game will face the winner of No. 3 Texas State and No. 6 SFA at 7 p.m. Thursday. The losers of those two games meet at noon Thursday.
Pitching dominated the first three games between the Bears and Lions. Neither team hit better than .210 over the three games and the teams combined for only 10 extra-base hits. Southeastern won the opener 5-4, before UCA came back and took Game 2 by an 8-4 score.
Wednesday’s starter for the Bears, junior Caleb McClanahan, won Game 2, going 7 innings and allowing four hits and four runs. He struck out four and walked five. McClanahan, from Wynne, has won a team-high six games for the Bears this season, getting No. 6 last Friday night against league-leader Sam Houston State at Bear Stadium.
UCA, which had four All-SLC selections earlier this week, are the No. 2 hitting team in the league with a .289 average, trailing only Sam Houston. Southeastern counters with the second-best pitching staff in the SLC, one with a team earned-run average of 3.37. The Lions will send freshman Andro Cutura (6-1, 2.90) to the mound in the opener.
UCA junior outfielder Forrestt Allday, a second-team All-SLC selection, is No. 1 in the league in walks (55), No. 1 in on-base percentage (.492), No. 2 in runs scored (49) and No. 14 in batting average (.331). Harris, a junior left fielder from White Hall, is second in RBI (46), while junior Garrett Brown is third in on-base percentage (.453) and junior Blake Marchal is tied for sixth in stolen bases (19).
McClanahan is second in the conference in complete games (4), tied for sixth in innings pitched (94.2) and tied for sixth in strikeouts (75).
The Bears will be without the services of All-SLC center fielder Jonathan Davis, who injured his wrist two weeks ago and is out for the season, and shortstop Kraig Kelley, who injured his throwing shoulder against UALR. Allday has moved from right field to center in Davis’ absence, with sophomore Logan Moon taking over in right. Freshman Griffin Glaude has stepped in at shortstop.