MAGNOLIA, Ark. - After sprinting out to a 7-0 lead through the first three innings, the Southern Arkansas baseball team captured their first conference win of the season by a score of 7-6 as the Muleriders were forced to fight off a furious comeback effort by Southwestern Oklahoma in the opening game of a three-game conference series on Friday evening at Walker Stadium at Goodheart Field.
The Muleriders (6-3, 1-0 GAC) notched all seven runs from their eventual total in the third inning as the team sent 11 batters to the plate in the inning. William Townsend led off the inning with a single through the left side of the infield. After stealing second base, Townsend was moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Jason Dahl. In the next at-bat, David Harris used his speed to force a throwing error by the shortstop to put runners on the corners with one out. Tyler Cameron then made the error hurt for the Bulldogs as his double scored both Townsend and Harris.
RBI singles by Jackson McCurdy, Chris Quinn, and Ryan Bell followed to put the Muleriders on top 5-0. Now having batted around in the inning, the Muleriders send Townsend back to the plate for the second time in the inning. Townsend promptly delivered a two-run single up the middle to score Bell and Quinn and to extend the Mulerider lead out to 7-0.
Taking a significant hit from the Mulerider offense, the Bulldogs showed a bit of resiliency in the following half-inning as the Bulldogs platted three runs on five hits in the frame to cut the Mulerider lead down to four runs, 7-3.
In that inning, the Bulldogs registered four consecutive singles off of Mulerider starting pitcher James Baune. To that point in the game, Baune had allowed just one hit. After surrendering the four straight hits, Baune got a critical double play ball and then collected a strikeout two batters later to escape the fourth inning without further damage.
After the Muleriders went quietly in the bottom of the fourth, the Bulldogs added one more run to their tally as they received a RBI single up the middle by Zack Mang. Over the next three innings, the Bulldogs would hold the Muleriders off the scoreboard to stay within reach in the game.
Despite giving up four runs over the fourth and fifth innings, Baune settled down and pitched scoreless frames in the sixth and seventh innings as he allowed just one hit over that time. In the top of the eighth inning, however, the Bulldogs would threaten once more.
Chris Faulkner would lead off the frame by reaching first base on an error by the Muleriders' second baseman. After a steal of second, Faulkner would come around to score on a RBI double by Michael Brittian. A groundout of Cooper Chambers for the first out of the inning advanced Brittian to third base and spelled the end of the night for Baune as was lifted for reliever Hayden Nichols.
Nichols would record an out on his first batter faced, but the groundout resulted in a run and pulled the Bulldogs to within a run, 7-6. After putting the next two batters on base, Nichols' night would end as the Muleriders turned to closer Justin Thomas for the four-out save.
Thomas, who had four saves on the season entering the game, fanned Brandon Ruiz to get out of the inning and preserve the slim lead. After a relatively quiet bottom of the eighth inning, Thomas returned to the mound for the ninth inning, looking to secure his fifth save of the season.
In that inning, Thomas retried the first two batters faced on strikeouts. A single by Chris Faulkner brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Mitchell Brittain, but like the three outs before him, Britian fell victim to the strikeout as Thomas caught him looking on an off-speed pitch on the outer half of the plate to end the game.
The Muleriders will now look to take the series as they will play a doubleheader against the Bulldogs on Saturday, February 16th starting at Noon.