ABILENE -- The ACU Wildcats' first Southland Conference baseball game in 40 years certainly won't be one they'll look back on with fond memories.
Incarnate Word scored three runs in the first inning and tacked on six more in the second Friday night as the Cardinals cruised home with an easy 11-3 win over the Wildcats in the conference opener for both teams at Crutcher Scott Field. The game was ACU's first Southland Conference game since a 6-2 loss at Louisiana Tech on April 28, 1973.
The teams will resume the series Saturday at 2 p.m. before finishing off the three-game set at 1 p.m. Sunday. The win pushes the Cardinals to 7-15 overall and 1-0 in the Southland, while the Wildcats fall to 10-13 and 0-1.
The Cardinals took advantage of an ineffective Nate Cole to score nine runs on seven hits in the first two innings of the ACU starting pitcher. Cole -- who took the loss to fall to 1-4 on the season -- gave up three walks and struck out three batters, but was tagged for nine runs (seven earned) in the first two frames.
Three times in the first inning he was one pitch away from getting out of the frame without giving up a run, but couldn't close out a batter with two strikes against him. He retired the first two batters of the game before giving up a single on an 0-2 pitch and then a walk on four straight pitches.
He jumped ahead of Jonathan Armijo 1-2 before the Cardinals' third baseman lined a shot off the glove of ACU third baseman Brandon Grudzielanek, who kept the ball from getting into the outfield and loading the bases. Cole quickly got ahead of Colton Bessett before a 2-2 pitch was lined down the third base line for a bases-clearing double and a 3-0 UIW lead.
The second inning was worse for Cole and the Wildcats as Incarnate Word sent 11 men to the plate, collected four hits and scored six runs to make it 9-0. Bryce Shepherd got the inning started by reaching on a passed ball after he had struck out swinging. Shepherd then went to second on a throwing error by ACU catcher Seth Spivey, who tried to pick Shepherd off at first base.
That was the beginning of a long inning for the Wildcats, who saw Mark Whitehead, Jesse Hoover and Thomas Rinn collect RBI hits, Besset drive in a run with a bases-loaded walk, and Shepherd drive in a run with a bases-loaded hit by pitch in his second plate appearance of the inning.
But then five ACU relief pitchers throwing one inning apiece limited the Cardinals to just two hits and no runs between the third and seventh innings, giving the Wildcat offense -- which led the Southland Conference in hitting at .308 entering the game -- a chance to work.
But UIW starting pitcher Geno Encina baffled the Wildcats all night as he scattered eight hits and two walks over eight innings while striking out seven batters. The Wildcats' only runs of the game came on one swing of the bat in the fifth inning when Spivey sent a two-out fastball over the wall in right field for his second home run of the season, a three-run shot that cut the Cardinals' lead to 9-3.
After ACU's bullpen threw five straight scoreless innings, Brandon Lambright came into the game in the in the eighth and gave up a two-out, two-run single to Jesse Hoover to push the Cardinals' lead to 11-3.
Ecina picked up the win to improve to 3-4, working eight innings and throwing 115 pitches before giving way to Alex Shaffer, who worked a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the Wildcats.