ABILENE -- ACU head coach Britt Bonneau believed he would get a solid starting performance from freshman Mack Morgan in Sunday afternoon's series finale against Incarnate Word.
What he got probably surprised even the Wildcats' veteran leader.
Morgan -- who had thrown only 1 1/3 innings on the season before Sunday -- went six-plus innings and allowed just one unearned run as he led the Wildcats to a 4-1 win over the Cardinals and a Southland Conference series win at Crutcher Scott Field. After giving up 11 runs in Friday night's 11-3, the ACU pitching staff bounced back to give up just three runs combined in the final two games of the series, which ACU won 2-1.
The win pushes the Wildcats to 12-13 overall and 2-1 in the Southland, while the Cardinals fall to 7-17 and 1-2. ACU will be back in action this weekend when it hosts the Lamar Cardinals in a three-game set at Crutcher Scott Field. Lamar will enter the series at 15-14 overall and 2-7 in league play after dropping two of three against McNeese State, including a 6-4 decision on Sunday.
Morgan, who topped out in the low 70s with his velocity, relied instead on location, an assortment of off-speed pitches and just enough pop on his fastball to keep the Cardinal hitters off-balance. After giving up an unearned run in the first inning and working out of trouble in the second, he walked the leadoff man in the third inning with the game tied at 1-1.
But he then retired the next three Cardinals he faced, setting a string of nine straight batters retired between the third and fifth innings. After giving up a leadoff single in the sixth he got an out before hitting Jonathan Armijo with a pitch. But he got out of further damage when he induced a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play out of Colton Besett.
He walked the first two men in the seventh inning and that brought Bonneau out to the mound for a chat with Morgan. After talking for a few seconds with his frehman pitcher and senior catcher (Seth Spivey), Bonneau made the call to the bullpen for Brady Rodriguez.
The senior left-hander worked out of a jam in the seventh with a pair of nice plays on the hot corner by freshman third baseman Brandon Grudzielanek. With one out and runners at second and third, Mark Whitehead shot a one-hopper to Grudzielanek, who fired to the plate and got Blue Hybner in a rundown, which ended when he was tagged out at third base for the second out. After a walk by Jason Stone put runners at first and second, Slade Brown sent a slow roller down the line that Grudzielanek fielded at the bag, allowing him to step on it to end the inning just before a sliding Whitehead could beat him to the base.
Rodriguez then got the Cardinals in order in the eighth and worked around a two-out single in the ninth to get Whitehead swinging to end the game. That punch out gave Morgan -- a lefthander from Southlake Carroll -- his first collegiate win and Rodriguez his first save of the season and seventh of his career.
"Mack did to Incarnate Word what he's been doing to our hitters and that's keeping them off balance," Bonneau said. "He throws three different pitches for strikes, keeps hitters guessing and eventually really gets them frustrated. He just kept putting up zeroes and our guys rallied around him. It was a great performance by Mack, and fortunately we have a veteran guy like Brady who can come into a tough situation, pitch us out of it and then finish it off."
After each team scored a run in the first, the Wildcats put up a crooked number in the bottom of the third that held up the rest of the afternoon.
Tyler Eager led off with a single and went to second on a wild pitch. Seth Spivey -- who finished the day 2 for 4 to push his league-leading batting average back to .404 -- then walked and both runners advanced on another wild pitch by UIW starting pitcher Jacob Potts. Grudzielanek -- who drove in the Wildcats' first-inning run with a sacrifice fly -- grounded out to second base, but drove in Eager from third to give ACU a 2-1 lead.
With Spivey now at third, freshman second baseman Gunnar Buhner drove in his 10th run of the season with a sacrifice fly to center field that plated Spivey to make it 3-1. The Wildcats eventually re-loaded the bases with two outs and Colton Hall drove in the game's final run with a walk to make it 4-1.
Those three stood up the rest of the day, thanks to Morgan and Rodriguez and some solid infield work by the Wildcats, who have now four of their last five games heading into the Lamar series.