SUGAR LAND, TX (Press Release)- By striking early with a trio of first-inning runs, the Stephen F. Austin was able to back up some solid pitching by the trio of Erik Nouis, Austin Hagy and Tyler Starksand went on to capture its first Southland Conference Tournament victory since 2012 by eliminating fourth-seeded Lamar 5-2 at Constellation Field on Thursday afternoon.
Keen on exacting revenge a Cardinals’ squad that hammered 13 home runs and scored 35 runs in a three-game sweep of the Lumberjacks at Jaycees Field only five days ago, SFA held that same Lamar lineup to only eight hits and a pair of runs.
“Coming in I felt a little anxious because they did put up a lot of offensive number on us in the final series of the regular season, but I felt confident that with the size of the park, with the way that the wind was blowing, that some of those home run balls they were hitting last weekend would be balls that we could catch,” said SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas.
Facing off against the man who limited the ‘Jacks to two hits in five innings last Sunday, SFA made it a point to get under the skin of Lamar starter Billy Love early on. Both Tyler Kendrickand Nick Ramos registered hits to start SFA’s day at the dish before Kyle Thornell surprised many in attendance by reaching on a bunt single to load the bases.
Seizing their opportunity, the ‘Jacks used a sacrifice fly from Garrett McMullen and an RBI single from Conner Fikes to take a 2-0 lead and end the outing of Love. Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year Zac Michener capped the ‘Jacks three-run first by posting an RBI groundout on a 1-2 pitch from Lamar reliever Jayson McKinley, ultimately giving the ‘Jacks all the offense they needed.
The first of two runs given up by Nouis came in the top of the third when Lamar shortstop Stijn van der Meer laced a scalding triple down the right field line with one out. SFA’s junior escaped the frame without any further damage by inducing a flyout in foul groundout and another fly ball out to center.
It appeared as though the Cardinals had Nouis solved in the fourth when Reid Russell and Trey Silvers started the frame with back-to-back singles. Bryndan Arredondo followed up with a one-out RBI double, trimming the ‘Jacks’ edge to 3-2 before Nouis refocused.
With runners on second and third, the lefty went to his change-up and struck out both Chaneng Varela and Brendan Satran to get out of the jam.
Nouis’ outing was finished after he gave up a leadoff walk to van der Meer in the fifth, and that brought Hagy in from the pen. The junior did give up a hit to the first batter he faced, but a double play ball from Russell was the first in a string of seven-straight batters Hagy would sit down.
Thornell provided some late-game insurance for the ‘Jacks in the seventh when his deep sacrifice fly to foul ground in right field allowed pinch runner Gavin Gregory to race home and make it 4-2 SFA.
The final threat posed by the Cardinals came in the eighth after Hagy hit a batter and gave up just his second hit of the day. After registering an out on a fielder’s choice, Hagy caught Silvers looking on a 3-2 offering and ran down a infield dribbler in no-man’s land before tossing to McMullen at first for the frame’s final out.
Fikes came around to score the game’s final run in the eight after leading off the inning with a double. Designated hitter Zach Valenzuela dropped an RBI single into shallow right to make it 5-2 and finish off a 2-for-4 day at the plate.
That set the stage for Starks, who notched his sixth save of 2016 by tossing a one, two, three ninth.
Thornell and Fikes each went 2-for-4 with an RBI and Tyler Boxwell had a 2-for-2 day at the dish while drawing one of two SFA walks. Hagy secured his first SFA win on the heels of his four-inning relief effort while Love was hit with the loss.
The ‘Jacks Southland Conference Tournament schedule continues on Friday at noon when they play either Sam Houston State or Central Arkansas in yet another elimination game.