Mavs use Comeback to Advance at SLC Tourney
May 27, 2010
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - UT Arlington advanced in the winner's bracket of the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament with a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over Nicholls Thursday night at Whataburger Field.
It is the fourth time in UT Arlington history that the Mavericks have won the opening two games of the Southland Conference Tournament. The three previous times the Mavs have played for the tournament championship.
"We knew Nicholls was coming in with a ton of momentum and we knew we would get their best effort," UT Arlington head coach Darin Thomas said. "I thought Rett did a very good job of minimizing the damage in the first inning and then settling in and pitching really well. We were just able to piece it together at the end with (Brian) Watson and (Logan) Bawcom."
UT Arlington (29-29) advances to the bracket final where they will face the winner of Texas State and Nicholls (27-28), who face off in an elimination game at noon on Friday. The Mavericks will await the winner for a 7 p.m. matchup.
The Mavericks trailed 4-2 in the seventh inning with two outs before Jesse Payne and Jordan Vaughn reached base to bring All-American Michael Choice to the plate. Choice was walked on four straight pitches before freshman Preston Beck drove a single up the middle to score Payne and Vaughn to tie the score at 4-4.
"Getting that win is huge for us," Choice said. "Anytime you are playing in the conference tournament, no matter who you face it is going to be a tough game - and it was again tonight. We won that game as a whole. We have a lot of guys stepping up. We have really been getting a lot of production up and down our lineup and Rett just pitched a great game for us."
The base hit extended Beck's career-high hit streak to 18 games - the longest for a Maverick this season.
"It felt really good to get that hit," Beck said. "I had been hitting the ball hard, just right at people, and I tried to not think about that. The last couple of weeks have really gone by fast. I have just been working on getting my foot down early and just trying to hit the ball hard."
Three pitches later designated hitter Steffan Guest singled through the left side to score Choice, giving the Mavericks a 5-4 lead they would not relinquish.
Rett Varner (8-5) earned the win in a 7.0 inning performance where he struck out eight and allowed four runs (one earned) on six hits and issued one walk. Logan Bawcom pitched a scoreless ninth inning to tally his second save of the tournament and his fifth of the season.
"At the beginning of the game I just had a lot of adrenaline going on those first few batters," Varner said. "We were just able to hold them where they were and I just knew our offense would get going. It just feels great that we got the win."
Third baseman Brian Nephew hit his second homer of the tournament while going 2-for-4. Jordan Vaughn went 3-for-4 and Choice went 1-for-2 with two walks while driving in a run with a triple off the top of the center field wall in the fifth inning.
"This was the biggest win of the year by far," Nephew said. "When they took the lead in the middle of the game for the second time we just found a way to scratch and battle back. We saw our opportunity to get the win at the end and we just stayed together as a team and found a way to win."
Choice, who has now walked a nation leading 75 times on the season, has now reached base safely in 70 consecutive games dating back to last season.
"The biggest thing is with the win it gives us a little more rest," Thomas said. "We get the night game again (tomorrow) and we don't have to turn back around and play at noon. We are a little thin on pitching right now - we have known that since the end of the year - but we will piece things together. Our guys are playing with a lot of confidence."
Varner ran into trouble early in the first inning as Nicholls had its first four batters reach base on consecutive singles, a walk and by a fielding error. Varner allowed only two runs in the inning as he struck out three consecutive batters to leave runners at the corners to avoid any further damage.
Nephew went deep on the first pitch he saw in the third inning to cut Nicholls' lead to 2-1, and UTA tied the game with Choice's RBI triple that went off the glove of a leaping Bear Comer in center field that brought the ball back into play as Comer's glove was above the fence. Choice drove in Vaughn (singled to center field) to tie the game at 2-2.
"It has been tough lately," Choice said. "I haven't had a lot of success at the plate the last four or five games, so just getting that confidence back and getting another hit was huge for me."
Varner cruised into the seventh inning, as he at one point retired 18 of 20 batters, with one of the two batters reaching base on a fielding error.
With the Mavs and Colonels tied, 2-2, Varner looked to get out of the seventh inning without any harm as Nicholls had a runner at first base with two outs. Varner got Bear Comer to ground to second baseman Cody Dyvig, but Dyvig couldn't retire Comer as his throw brought Vaughn off the bag to keep Nicholls' rally alive.
Keith Kulbeth and Adam Miley followed with run-scoring singles to give Nicholls a 4-2 lead as both runs were unearned.
Nephew led off the seventh inning with a single, but soon after there were two outs following Jake Pinchback's second straight line-drive out to center field and Jesse Payne got aboard on a fielder's choice.
Then after Vaughn's second base hit of the night, the Colonels were left with the decision of whether they would choose to pitch to Choice or not. For the second consecutive tournament game the opponent decided to walk Choice, which led to Beck's game-tying base hit and Guest's hit that scored the eventual game-winning run.
"I'm not sure that teams are learning," Choice said of opponents pitching around him to face his teammates. "Teams have put my teammates in that situation a lot this year by pitching around me. All of my teammates have been coming through almost every single time. At first tonight I thought it would be just an ordinary at-bat, but once it got to ball two, I realized they were just pitching me outside to get to the next batter. But then Preston made them pay."
Last night Stephen F. Austin decided to intentionally walk Choice with nobody on base and with two outs which lead to a UTA four-run inning.
Watson pitched a scoreless eighth inning in large part to Beck throwing out second baseman Chase Jaramillo at third base, who was attempting to go first-to-third on Kevin Schlegel's two-out single to right field.
Bawcom picked up the save in the ninth inning with a swinging strikeout and a line out to Payne for the first two outs in the ninth. Nicholls then attempted its own comeback with two straight singles before Bawcom fielded a comebacker and threw to first base to end the game.
"It is great to get back to being the closer," Bawcom said. "It is my dream position. I love coming in to pitch in those pressure situations when people are looking to you to get the job done. Once we got that lead I knew (Brian) Watson would get that hold and that I would have the opportunity to come in and shut it down."
- Third-year head coach Darin Thomas wins his third game in SLC Tournament action (0-2 in 2008, 1-2 in 2009, 2-0 in 2010) with a 3-4 record in three appearances... The Mavericks are now 66-5 under Thomas in three seasons when holding a lead after seven innings... UTA is 22-1 this season when leading after seven innings of action.
- Thursday marked the first matchup between UT Arlington and Nicholls at the Southland Conference Tournament... Nicholls is the Mavs' 10th opponent all-time at the SLC Tourney, joining Lamar (3-6), Louisiana-Monroe (3-3), McNeese State (2-3), Northwestern State (6-2), Sam Houston State (0-3), Southeastern Louisiana (0-1), Stephen F. Austin (2-0), Texas State (3-6) and UTSA (4-0).
- It is only the fourth time in school history that UTA has won its opening two games at the Southland Conference Tournament (1999, 2001, 2003)... all three previous times the Mavs have advanced to the championship game... The only time UTA has won three straight games to open a SLC Tournament was in 1999 (lost two straight to Texas State in championship games).
- The one-run victory marked the Mavs' sixth in SLC Tournament history... UTA's last one-run victory in tournament play was in 2006 (8-7, Lamar)... Overall, UTA is 6-6 in 12 one-run games in SLC Tournament play.
- The Mavericks three all-time Southland Conference Tournament wins in Corpus Christi, Texas, mark the third most wins for the Mavs in a tournament location (9-4 in Beaumont, Texas; 8-6 in Monroe, La.).
- UTA improved to 2-0 at a neutral site... Mavs are now 27-14 when their starting pitcher throws at least 5.0 innings... It is the second consecutive tournament game that the UTA pitching staff has struck out 10 batters (11 vs. Stephen F. Austin)... UTA is 13-2 this season when its pitchers strikeout a double-figure total... Mavericks are now 15-18 this season against a right-handed starter... UTA improved to 6-5 on the season in one-run games... The Mavericks are now 13-8 this season when wearing their all-white uniforms, which is their most wins in a specific jersey top this season... Mavericks are now 3-1 when playing on Thursday's this season... Mavericks are now 8-7 in the month of May... game-time temperature was 85 degrees, improving the Mavs to 10-6 on the season when the first-pitch temperature is between 80-89 degrees.
- Head coach Darin Thomas won his 23rd one-run game in his third season as head coach of the Mavericks... Thomas is now 58-47 all-time against opponents from the Southland Conference (non-conference/conference/post-season).
- Michael Choice has now reached base safely in 70 consecutive games dating back to April 28, 2009... Choice has reached base safely in 116 of his last 118 games played an in 155 of his 164 career games played.
- Michael Choice leads the nation with 75 walks... next closest to Choice is Rice's Anthony Rendon (60).
- Rett Varner now has nine starts this season where he has pitched at least 7.0 innings... Varner went 7.0 innings tonight in the win... Varner has won five of his last six decisions and five of his last seven starts overall... It was the sixth time this season that Varner has struck out at least eight batters... his 95 strikeouts on the season rank seventh on UTA's all-time single-season list... Varner's 103.2 innings pitched are just outside of the top 10 all-time in UTA history (Michael Gardner - 105.0 IP, 2004)...
- UTA's 366 runs scored are tied for seventh in the program's all-time history.
- UTA's 609 base hits are the fifth most in UTA single-season history.
- UTA's 323 RBI rank seventh in the school's single-season all-time record book.
- UTA's pitching staff has struck out a school record 454 batters this season... the previous all-time school record was set last season by the Mavs' pitching staff that struck out 410 batters... UTA's total is just five behind Northwestern State (459) for the most strikeouts in the Southland Conference... UTA led the lead in strikeouts last season.