ARLINGTON, Texas -- UTA fell behind by a pair of runs in the first inning but fought back to post a 5-4 series-opening win over No. 20 Louisiana, running its winning streak to six games and vaulting into first place in the Sun Belt Conference standings on a steamy Friday night at Clay Gould Ballpark.
In a battle of the top two teams in the Sun Belt standings, UTA (24-17, 14-5 Sun Belt) moved ahead of Louisiana (27-15-1, 13-5-1 Sun Belt) with the comeback win in the series opener on Friday. UTA also owns a one-game advantage on Eastern Division leader South Alabama (13-6).
The Mavs have won six straight games, their longest winning streak since 2014. UTA is 9-1 over its last 10 games, have won 12 of their last 15 games, and own two wins over ranked foes in its six-game streak. Over its six-game winning streak, UTA has hit .301 with 44 runs scored, sporting a 3.33 team ERA. Since March, the Mavs are 22-10, including a 13-3 mark away from home.
The Ragin' Cajuns opened the game with two runs before the Mavs rallied back even the game with a two-run second. The Cajuns took their second lead of the game with a run in the fourth inning, but UTA scored the next three runs to take a 6-4 lead into the ninth inning. The Cajuns got a two-out solo homer to get the tying run to the plate against UTA closer Daniel James but the Mavs escaped with the one-run win.
UTA's win saw another red-hot game from sophomore left-handed hitting centerfielder Noah Vaughan. After belting a grand slam and a three-run triple in his first two at-bats at Oklahoma on Tuesday, the game was rained out with the Mavs leading 11-3, erasing his seven-RBI opening to the game.
After sailing a double over the leftfielder's head in his first at-bat on Friday, Vaughan cranked a fifth-inning, two-run homer over the rightfield fence. With the outfielder tracking the ball to the wall, Vaughan passed the baserunner midway between first and second base and was ruled out on the play with an RBI single, with the runner he passed allowed to score on the would-be, two-run homer, the eventual game-winning run in the game.
With weather in the area on Saturday, the teams will conclude the series with a doubleheader on Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. CT at Clay Gould Ballpark. The Mavs will be looking to secure their first series win over the Ragin' Cajuns since 1976 and their first series win over LA in Arlington since 1973.
ON THE MOUND
UTA senior starter Kadon Simmons (7-2) finished an out shy of his seventh quality start of the season, working 5.2 innings, allowing seven hits and three runs, not issuing a walk and striking out two. He allowed the two runs in the first then settled in to allow just a run over the next five innings.
With the tying run at the plate and two outs in the sixth inning, the Mavs turned to lefty Adam Meyer to face a dangerous left-handed hitter. Meyer escaped the jam to keep UTA up by two runs, before senior Austin Gardner took over to open the seventh inning. Gardner fired two shutout innings to run his streak of five straight scoreless outings to 11 straight innings. Over his 14 relief outings in weekend games, Gardner has allowed only three runs in 18.1 innings.
James came on to work the ninth inning, surrendering a two-out solo homer for the final margin but getting the final three outs for his conference-leading 11th save of the year. James has converted all 11 save chances in 2017 and ranks third in UTA single-season history in saves.
Louisiana sophomore starter Nick Lee (5-4) worked 3.2 innings, allowing seven hits and four runs, throwing 71 pitches without a walk or strikeout. In a two-out, two-on jam in the fourth inning, Colten Schmidt came on in relief. Schmidt surrendered an inherited runner to score, but worked a strong 4.1 innings, allowing just three hits and a run.
LEADING THE MAVS
Freshman Zac Cook led the Mavs with a 3-for-5 outing at the plate, driving in a run. Vaughan finished a hard-luck 2-for-4, with Easton Johnson, Aaron Funk, RJ Williams, Omar Salinas and Brady Cox each adding hits. Cox's two-out RBI single in the fourth inning gave UTA its first lead of the game.
HOW THEY SCORED
The Cajuns wasted little time getting on the board in the first inning. Ishmael Edwards lined a double into the right-centerfield gap, taking second on a sacrifice bunt and scoring on a sacrifice fly from Joe Robbins. Steven Sensley then belted his eighth homer of the year, a no-doubt blast over the rightfield fence for a 2-0 lead.
UTA got on the board in the bottom of the second inning, getting a one-out double from Vaughan, sailed over the head of the leftfielder. Williams then pushed Vaughan to third with a two-strike single dropped into shallow rightfield, with Vaughan scoring on a wild pitch during the Aaron Funk at-bat. After Johnson was plunked by a pitch with two outs, Cook smashed a two-out RBI single to leftfield to score Williams with the tying run.
LA got the lead back in the top of the fourth inning, getting a leadoff one-hop single to centerfield from Joe Robbins and a rocket double down the rightfield line from Sensley to leadoff. Kennon Fontenot then chopped a grounder to the right side to score the go-ahead run.
A two-out rally gave the Mavs a lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. Johnson singled up the middle to spark the rally, motoring to third on the third hit of the game from Cook. Cox then fought off a 1-0 offering from Lee into shallow centerfield, allowing Johnson to score for a 3-3 game. Salinas found grass in shallow leftfield to allow Cook to score from second with the go-ahead run.
UTA got a run in the fifth inning, getting a leadoff walk from Rohrbaugh in front of Vaughan. Vaughan lofted a no-doubt homer on a 1-1 pitch to rightfield - what would be his seventh of the game - but passed Rohrbaugh in the baseline. He was ruled out on an RBI single, with Rohrbaugh scoring for a 5-3 UTA lead.
The series will conclude on Sunday with a doubleheader, starting at 11 a.m. CT at Clay Gould Ballpark.
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