ABILENE -- Less than 20 hours after finishing off one of their worst losses of the season, the ACU Wildcats bounced back Saturday afternoon with one of their best efforts of the year, and it results in a series-evening 4-2 win over Incarnate Word at Crutcher Scott Field.
The Wildcats -- who fell behind the Cardinals 9-0 after two innings Friday night -- got a solid start on the mound from Garrett Demeyere, three innings of scoreless relief from Kevin Sheets and clutch defense and hitting from freshman third baseman Brandon Grudzielanek to pull out the win over the Cardinals.
The win pushes the Wildcats to 11-13 overall and 1-1 in Southland Conference play, while the Cardinals -- who have not won back-to-back games this season -- fall to 7-16 and 1-1. The teams will wrap up the three-game series with the rubber game Sunday at 1 p.m.
As they did Friday night, Incarnate Word grabbed an early lead, scoring two runs in the third off Demeyere to take a 2-0 lead. ACU would answer with single runs in the third and fifth inning to the game at 2-2. After that, the final 3 1/2 innings turned into a tense battle between the two bullpens.
Incarnate Word threatened to regain the lead in the top of the seventh after Demeyere gave up a leadoff single to Dustin Cole and hit Mark Whitehead before both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Aaron Warren. Demeyere then gave way to Kevin Sheets, who came on in relief. Grudzielanek saved at least one run when he snared a ground ball hit by Slade Brown and threw across the diamond for the second out. After an intentional walk to Jesse Hoover to load the bases, Sheets went to a full count on Jonathan Armijo before striking him out swinging on a 3-2 pitch to send the game to the bottom of the seventh still tied.
In the bottom of the seventh, Colton Hall got a one-out single and went to second on a throwing error by the third baseman, Armijo. Aaron Draper then walked and then the Wildcats found themselves with the bases loaded and one out when Tyler Eager lined a shot off relief pitcher Brandon Cogbill's glove and caromed toward the vacant hole at shortstop for an infield hit.
But Cogbill got a big out when he struck out the league's leading hitter -- Seth Spivey -- for the second out before he gave way to Matthew Decker. His second pitch to Grudzielanek was lined into right field for a single that drove in Hlal and Draper to give the Wildcats a 4-2 lead.
Sheets worked around a one-out hit batter in the eighth to escape unscathed, but the Cardinals immediately went to work on him in the top of the ninth when Warren singled to lead off the frame. Sheets, though, retired the next two batters and had a 1-1 count on Armijo before he hit him with a pitch to put runners at first and second.
Colton Bessett then hit a ground ball to the right of Draper at shortstop that appeared as though it would be the final out. Draper backhanded the ball, but his throw across the diamond was low for an error as the Cardinals were able to load the bases. Brandon Clark -- who entered the game in the eighth as a defensive replacement -- then came to the plate carrying a .105 batting average on the season. He jumped ahead in the count before shooting a ground ball to Gunnar Buhner at second. The Wildcats' freshman second baseman picked it cleanly and stepped on the bag at second for the force out to end the game.
Sheets went the final 2 2/3 innings in support of Demeyere to pick up the win and improve to 3-1 on the season. Cogbill was tagged with the loss to fall to 1-2. Eager had three hits and scored a run for the Wildcats, while Grudzielanek and Hall each had two hits for ACU.