NORMAL, Ala. - Alabama A&M withstood a furious late-inning rally by the Abilene Christian baseball team, as an error made by one the Southland Conference's best infielders led to the Bulldogs' game-winning run in their 9-8 victory Sunday.
Minutes removed from an inspiring five-run eighth inning in which the Wildcats tied the score at 8-8, ACU reliever Stuart Patke began his fifth inning of work with two quick outs on a fly ball to left and ground ball back to the mound.
But that third out proved to be elusive with the Bulldogs' No. 3 and 4 hitters connecting on back-to-back singles. Julio Nunez then came to the plate and hit a ground ball to senior third baseman Kyle Giusti, who bounced his throw in front of the first base bag, allowing Austin Hulsey to score all the way from second base.
For Giusti, who was an all-region and all-conference selection a year ago, today's error was only his third of the season in 47 chances at the hot corner. Giusti started the year on 14-game errorless streak, and even the one he was charged with at Oklahoma State on March 13 was originally scored a hit before being changed an inning later.
ACU still had one more shot at taking the lead during its turn in the top of the ninth, but closer Andrew Utterback retired the side in order on a strikeout and two ground balls.
In the inning previous, ACU completed its comeback from a fourth-inning 8-1 deficit, scoring five runs on a four hits and an error against Bulldog starter Devin Smith and reliever Derrick Winter.
The frame began with three straight hits off the bats of Russell Crippen, Tyler Eager and Giusti followed by a second baseman's error that cut Alabama A&M's lead to 8-5.
Winter was then called in from the bullpen only to follow Cameron Sterne's steal of second base with a passed ball and subsequent walk to Heath Beasley that loaded the bases for Gunnar Buhner.
Buhner capitalized on the situation with a run-scoring single and Colton Hall made it an 8-7 ball game with a sacrifce fly to center. A second fly ball - this time off the bat of Aaron Draper and into right field - tied the score at 8-8 as Beasley came around to score.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats' rally was abruptly cut short as Buhner was thrown out at third trying to steal after Seth Spivey had drawn a two-out walk.
Spivey, who's been hitting well above .400 all season long, went 0-for-3 today and scored one of two runs during the Wildcats' two-run sixth inning. Spivey made it home that frame while Crippen was caught in a run down between first and second base. Giusti then followed with a solo home run that was his first of the year.
Ty Walker started for the Wildcats and allowed eight runs on eight hits and four walks in 3.1 innings. The Bulldogs plated three runs against Walker in the first and five more times between the second and fifth. Alabama A&M finished with 12 hits and had five players finish with a multi-hit game, including Justin Folger who drove in a game-high three runs.
Giusti led the Wildcats' offense with four hits to finish with eight for the series. He has seen his batting average rise close to .100 percentage points over the past 10 days, starting with his 5-for-5 afternoon at Oklahoma State.
Beasley drove in the Wildcats' first run of the game in the second on a RBI triple that plated Sterne.
Patke was the hard-luck loser of today's game despite striking out seven batters in a long-relief outing. Nick Palacios finished the game in relief of Patke, retiring the lone batter he faced on a ground ball to shortstop.
In taking two of three games this weekend at Bulldog Park, Alabama A&M improved to 10-16, while the Wildcats slipped to 8-16.
The Wildcats return to action Tuesday for the start of a two-game home series against Texas College. Game times are 6 p.m. Tuesday and 2 p.m. Wednesday at Crutcher Scott Field.
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