May 24, 2014
MOBILE, Alabama - Matt Shortall's two-run double in the eighth inning pushed UT Arlington past Arkansas State and into the Sun Belt Championship title game. The Mavericks rallied to beat the Red Wolves 8-7 in the semifinals Saturday afternoon at Stanky Field.
Awaiting the No. 2 Mavericks (33-25) is top-seeded Louisiana (52-7) in the 1 p.m. championship tilt with an automatic berth in the NCAA Baseball Tournament on the line. The final will be broadcast on the Sun Belt Network/ESPN3 and UTARadio.com.
UT Arlington is gunning for its third different conference championship in the last three years. The Mavericks won the Southland Tournament title in 2012 and were WAC regular-season champions the following year. UTA has made five trips to the NCAA Tournament, the last coming in 2012 under coach Darin Thomas.
UT Arlington's current 10-game winning streak is the longest since a 10-game unbeaten run in 1990. The Mavericks went 1-2 against Louisiana this season, with the series at Clay Gould Ballpark.
"We're going to need some help - they're good," Thomas said. "The biggest thing tomorrow is we've got to score. We make them go to their 'pen a little bit and who knows?"
The Mavericks were down 7-6 with two outs and none on in the eighth before starting the game-winning rally. Darien McLemore and Ryan Bottger both worked walks against ASU reliever Morgan Croft, bringing up Shortall. The senior DH stroked a pitch into the gap in right-center to score both runners.
"Early in the game I was getting in trouble, getting jammed," said Shortall, who went 2-5. "I should've been backing off the plate. Luckily, I saw the same pitch as the first at-bat, so I put a pretty good swing on it, and it went our way."
The Mavericks didn't trail in either of the first two games of the Sun Belt Championship.
"It was the first time we've had to overcome some adversity in a while, and we did that," Thomas said. "We had some great at-bats. Matt had a good hit, and Greg [McCall] hit the home run. I can't say enough about how resilient we were. We definitely didn't want to play another. To come back tomorrow and play in the championship is all we could ask for."
Mavericks starter Brad Vachon ran into control problems in the first inning, walking two and giving up two hits. Stuart Levy's bases-loaded single up the middle gave the Red Wolves a 2-0 lead with just one out. The damage was limited there with a strikeout and groundout to end the inning.
UT Arlington surged ahead in the second with five runs, chasing ASU starter Tanner Gaines in the process. Eric Tate doubled into the left-field corner to score John Michael Twichell and McCall with one out. After a Travis Sibley single to right moved Tate to third, Derek Miller's sacrifice fly gave UTA a 3-2 edge.
The Mavericks scored two more runs with two outs. McLemore stroked a double into the gap in right-center to plate Sibley from first. Bottger's soft liner into shallow center popped out of second baseman's glove after a small collision with the shortstop, allowing McLemore to round the bases.
Arkansas State inched closer with a run in the fourth. Zach Maggio's sac fly scored Ty Michelotti, who opened the inning with a triple. UTA got that run back on McCall's monster blast to right, which landed inside South Alabama's soccer stadium.
Vachon was lifted in the fifth after a one-out walk in favor of Zach Hobbs. The bullpen couldn't hold the lead, though a costly error allowed two runs to score as Arkansas State scored four times in the seventh to go up 7-6.
"They had some momentum in the seventh inning, and we weren't making great pitches," Thomas said. "We weren't fielding like we should've. You play enough inning, you're going to have one or two bad ones. The biggest thing was just coming back offensively."