ABILENE – It might be hard to find a better rags-to-riches story in all of college baseball than what you will find in Abilene, Texas. When head coach Rick McCarty was hired in the summer of 2018, he inherited a team that had just five conference wins. And just two full regular seasons and a pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign later, the Wildcat baseball team has climbed all the to the top. After sweeping the SFA Lumberjacks Friday, ACU (34-18, 25-12 SLC) is the regular season champion in the Southland Conference, cementing the No. 1 seed in next week’s league tournament in Hammond, La. The Wildcats celebrated on Crutcher Scott Field one of the quickest turnarounds in the country.
Coming into Friday, the team either need a win or a Southeastern Louisiana loss to ensure a regular-season championship. They got both. ACU’s 7-3 and 6-4 wins ensure a series win, a conference title, and a No. 1 seed; the final two items are both new to the program’s identity. This program is going to new heights, and the belief it has to win each and every time it steps out on the field is unparalleled.
The two teams wrap the series on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. as ACU goes for the sweep.
Game 1: ACU 7, SFA 3
The ‘Cats gave right-hander Genner Cervantes a first-inning lead when Miller Ladusau grounded out to score Grayson Tatrow, and that was all Cervantes would need for a while. The junior was dealing, not allowing a run through five innings, and it would not be until the fourth until his offense would score again.
It was a big inning to break the game open. Tatrow doubled to left center field to score Tommy Cruz and Harrison Caley, who started both games behind the plate. Tatrow then came around to score on the Southland Conference-leading 13th home run from Colton Eager, busting it open with a 5-0 ACU lead. Cervantes would get more help in the fifth when Cameron Cromer reached on a fielder’s choice to score Sebastian Randle, and Eric Wimpee would score on a bad throw as well. The 7-0 lead was more than enough for ACU.
Cervantes got into some trouble in the sixth when SFA put together a double followed by a single, and eventually two runs would score three batters later on an error, and it was a 7-3 game. Lefty Connor Carlton came in at that point and got the final out of the sixth via a strikeout, and pitched a scoreless seventh to earn his second save of the season.
The final out was one to celebrate. As Colton Eager squeezed his glove in right field just in front of the warning track, the team came running out of the dugout, jumping up and down and celebrating the first Division I championship for the program. The mob in the middle of the field in front of the home fans was a moment to never forget.
- Tatrow and Eager each drove in two runs, while Ladusau and Cromer tallied an RBI as well.
- Tatrow, Eager, and Randle all had two hits to lead the way.
- Cervantes dazzled with 5.2 innings, allowing one earned run on five hits with seven strikeouts, one short of his career high.
- Carlton struck out three of the four batters he faced Friday to earn the save.
Game 2: ACU 6, SFA 4
The Wildcats again took the early lead in the back-half of the twin bill, but then trailed in the middle portion of the game before coming back to tie it, take the lead, and hold on for the win. ACU struck first when Harrison Caley struck the first triple of his career to right center to score Brett Hammit, and it was 1-0. Caley came in on an Alexei Cazarin sacrifice fly, and the ‘Cats led 2-0 after two. However, SFA answered.
The Lumberjacks scored three in the top of the third off starter Adam Stephenson, who went 5.2 innings on the day. SFA led all the way to the bottom of the fifth until Tommy Cruz singled with one out and advanced to second on a bad throw at short. Cruz then advanced to third on a flyout, and scored on a wild pitch to even things up.
The team took the lead for good again in the bottom of the sixth after Randle singled, and Hunter Gieser doubled down the left field to score the freshman. Two batters later, Caley laid down a perfect bunt to score Gieser from third, and the Wildcats led 5-3.
ACU added insurance in the seventh with a Miller Ladusau single on the infield to score Cruz, and despite an SFA run in the eighth, it did not matter. Austin Glaze pitched the seventh and most of the eighth, and then the closer Tanner Riley got the final four outs to ensure the series win.
- Stephenson allowed three earned in 5.2 innings, striking out six batters.
- Glaze earns the win in 2.0 innings of relief work, allowing one earned on two hits.
- Riley gets his eighth save after getting the final four outs.
- Randle hit .571 for the day with four hits, while Caley, Ladusau, Eager, and Tatrow all drove in a pair of runs Friday.
- ACU has now won 15 of its last 16 games, and has won its last five series.