SUGAR LAND, Texas - Down by one in the bottom of the 10th inning, Stephen F. Austin freshman Josh Campbell sent a hard single to up the middle and pinch runner Chad Dunlop tried to score the game-tying run from second only to see New Orleans shortstop Aaron Palmer recover from knocking the ball down and throw out Dunlop at the plate which ended the `Jacks' season in a 4-3 loss in a Southland Conference Tournament elimination game at Constellation Field Thursday morning.
"You're trying to be aggressive on the base paths right there and sneak in a run, but they just made the play," said SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas. "I can't say enough about the way we played all season - especially our seniors. They each laid their hearts out there and at the end of the day we just came up a little short."
As SFA's 2017 campaign came to a painful conclusion, so too did the careers of the `Jacks' 14 seniors. Among that group was Nick Ramos who finished the game with a trio of hits and an RBI. Fellow final-year men Alex Hrinevich and Tyler Kendrick added two hits each while Conner Fikes and Zac Michener each finished with a hit. Both teams left 11 men on the base paths in the one-run decision and SFA carried a 3-0 lead into the top of the sixth inning before seventh-seeded New Orleans began its comeback bid.
Making the final start of his career, Patrick Ledet matched zeroes with New Orleans sophomore Bryan Warzek through the first three frame of the game. Ledet worked 5.2 frames and let up a pair of runs on six hits while striking out four. The `Jacks had a chance to strike in the home half of the first, but left the bases loaded when Hrinevich struck out swinging.
Finally in the fourth, the `Jacks' offense broke through the stuff of Warzek. Hrinevich and Andrew Cole both reached base on infield singles to start the inning before New Orleans' only miscue of the game allowed SFA to draw first blood.
Jarrod Huber laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt that was fielded by UNO catcher John Cable, but the junior's toss down to first base was low which allowed Hrinevich to charge home from second. Following a sacrifice fly by Eric DeJesus that scored Cole, Ramos continued his hot-hitting ways with an RBI single to left which pushed Huber home from second and handed the `Jacks a 3-0 lead.
The only mistake Ledet made came with two outs in the top of the sixth when Hezekiah Randolph turned on a 3-1 pitch from the senior and trimmed SFA's lead to one run by blasting a two-run homer beyond the fence in left-center. That long ball signaled the end of Ledet's day, but junior Will Vest came in and struck out Jay Robinson to put an end to the Privateers' sixth.
Once again, the `Jacks loaded the bases with a pair of outs in the sixth only to see nothing come from that opportunity. On the first pitch of hit at-bat, Conner Fikes sent a hard-hit ball toward the right side of the Privateers' infield that second baseman Samuel Capielano knocked down. Hustling down the line, Fikes was called out at first after Capielano's throw beat the senior by the slimmest of margins.
In the top of the frame, Capielano tied things at three-all with a two-out RBI single past a diving DeJesus at third base. Following that hit, Vest exited the game and gave way to sophomore Tyler Starks who loaded the bases before getting Dakota Dean to fly out to left and keep things tied at 3-3.
Starks held the Privateers at bay in the eighth and ninth, but the `Jacks couldn't get much of anything going at the dish during that span. SFA went down in order in the ninth, sending the teams to extra innings where New Orleans wasted no time in breaking the tie.
Randolph reached on a dropped fly ball in the top of the frame and moved to second on a one-out single. Jay Robinson flied out to Michener in shallow right and SFA's senior tried to double up Tristan Clarke at first but his throw came in just a touch low while allowed Clarke to get back in time.
One batter later, Darren Willis drove in the eventual game-winning run by pushing an RBI single through the right side of SFA's infield.
Starks suffered the loss and tossed 3.1 innings of relief for the `Jacks. In that time, the sophomore gave up just three hits and struck out five while allowing just the one unearned run.
In addition to Fikes, Hrinevich, Kendrick, Michener and Ramos, Austin Hagy, Chris Hassold, Jarred Greene, Erik Nouis, Ryan Thomas, Gavin Gregory and Clark Kahawaii each took part in their final collegiate baseball games. SFA's 14th senior - Stephen Stuart - had his career finale last Friday before he departed Nacogdoches to enlist in the United States Army.