NACOGDOCHES, TX (Press Release)- Knowing that starting pitcher, senior Eric Polivka, had done all he could on the hill to put the Stephen F. Austin baseball team in a position to win, the ‘Jacks got the one big inning they needed to make a winner out of their final-year man.
Seven of SFA’s 10 hits came in the seventh and eighth innings, and the ‘Jacks plated all six of their runs in that span to earn a 6-2 come-from-behind win over the University of Louisiana Monroe at Jaycees Field on Tuesday night.
That timely hitting helped SFA lift Polivka to his second win of the season after the senior submitted a fine performance atop the hill. Outside of ULM runs in the first and fourth frames, the southpaw kept the Warhawks at bay, hurling seven frames in which he surrendered just three hits and a pair of walks while registering five punchouts.
“Eric did a great job of doing what he needed to in order to keep us in the game,” SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas said. “He commanded both sides of the plate and did a good job of making the pitches he needed to when he needed to and minimizing the damage ULM was able to do.”
A rocky start that included Polivka hitting the first batter of the game followed by one of the three Warhawk hits put runners on first and second, and the visitors drew first blood with a sacrifice fly before the frame came to a close.
Getting baserunners - let alone runs - proved to be a difficult task for the ‘Jacks against Warhawk starter Cole Hendrix. Through six innings, SFA mustered just three hits and four total men on the paths against the sophomore while bouncing into a double play and getting one of their runners gunned down on a stolen base attempt.
Danny Springer cranked a leadoff home run to left field to lead off the ULM fourth, giving the visitors what appeared to be an insurmountable 2-0 lead with Hendrix handling things on the hill. Polivka, though, kept his wits about him and refused to keep battling through his final three frames. Four of his strikeouts came in innings six and seven, and once Hendrix returned to the dugout in favor of Matthew Reeves, the ‘Jacks were finally able to strike back.
Before the Warhawk reliever was even afforded a chance to settle in, reigning Southland Confernece Hitter of the Week Kyle Thornell greeted him with a single before Garrett McMullen followed with a double, putting the ‘Jacks in business.
A passed ball let Thornell race home to break up the shutout and after Zach Valenzuela drew a one-out walk, pinch-hitter Tyler Kendrick laid down a perfect bunt single down the first-base line, eluding the tag of Spinger and pushing McMullen across the dish to knot matters at two. Unwilling to settle for a tie, pinch hitter Zac Michener kept the line moving with a single to load the bases and Stephen Stuart stepped in and took a bases-loaded walk to put SFA ahead for good. One last ‘Jack touched home before the seventh was done when Kendrick crossed the dish on a wild offering by one of the three Warhawk arms who were required to escape the frame.
Polivka took a seat and turned control of the game over to Seth Campbell, but the normally sure-handed freshman issued walks to the first two batters he faced in the eighth, forcing Cardenas to call on first-year man Tyler Starks to finalize the deal. The freshman did so, striking out Springer before catcher Tyler Boxwell alertly started a 2-4-3-6 rundown play for the frame’s second out. After issuing his only walk of the night, Starks caught Nathan Reynolds looking to terminate the one-time threat.
“Tyler did a great job coming in and taking the wind out of their sails,” Cardenas said. “They got something going with those two walks, and at that point you’re just hoping to minimize the damage to one run, but when a guy like Starks come on and does and excellent job of not giving up anything, that’s really a feather in his cap.”
Adding some insurance with a bang in the eighth, Thornell blasted a solo home run beyond the right field fence before Kendrick laced a one-out double down the left field line to beingConner Fikes around to score.
Provided with that four-run cushion, Starks didn’t allow a ball to leave the infield in the ninth and completed SFA’s comeback by securing his fourth save in the one, two, three frame.
Coming up big as a pinch hitter, Kendrick finished 2-for-2 with a pair of RBI while Thornell and McMullen also enjoyed two-hit nights. Nick Ramos, Trevor Podsednik, Fikes and Michener each contributed a hit to SFA’s cause, too.
Winners of three of their last four tilts, the ‘Jacks hit the road for an important three-game Southland Conference series at Abilene Christian University. Sitting in 10th place in the league standings, SFA must rise to eighth or higher should they want to make the field for the 2016 Southland Conference Tournament. The ‘Jacks/Wildcats gets underway on Friday evening at 6:00 p.m.