Red Wolves slam Warhawks in SBC series opener

MONROE, La - Arkansas State senior first baseman Brandon Eller highlighted a six-run sixth inning with an opposite-field grand slam to jump-start the Red Wolves (8-10, 3-4) to a 14-4 victory over the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (10-9, 3-4) Friday night in the teams' Sun Belt Conference series opener at Warhawk Field.

Arkansas State had just broken a 2-2 tie with a pair of runs to open the sixth when Eller sent his towering shot over the right field wall for the 8-2 Red Wolves advantage.

The Red Wolves belted out 17 hits on the night, with Eller going 3-for-5 with five RBIs.  Sophomore right fielder Todd Baumgartner was 5-for-6 with an RBI, sophomore designated hitter Murray Watts went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and third baseman Guy Brown was 3-for-5 with one RBI.

The Red Wolves used three big innings to put the game out of reach, scoring six in the sixth, three in the eighth and three in the ninth.

"You win 80 percent of your games when you have a big-inning in a ball game, and we had three of them tonight," said ASU Head Coach Tommy Raffo.  "And we denied them any big innings.  They scored one, one and two, so overall it was a very good effort on our ballclub's part."

Louisiana-Monroe got the scoring started in the third when third baseman Nick Wade led off the bottom of the inning for the Warhawks with a solo home run, and Wade drew a bases loaded walk in the fourth to bump the ULM lead to 2-0.

The Red Wolves reeled off four consecutive one-out singles to tie the game in the fifth.  Brown and Baumgartner got the string of singles started before coming home on base hits from Watts and Eller to knot the score at 2-2.

The Red Wolves went ahead in the sixth when shortstop Jordan Kimball got aboard with a one-out double, and scored when Brown was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded for the 3-2 A-State lead.  Baumgartner delivered his fourth single of the night to send home another run before Eller stretched the lead to 8-2 with the grand slam.

A two-run home run from ULM left fielder Jon Prevost cut the ASU lead to 8-4 in the seventh and the Warhawks threatened to get more when preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Ben Soignier drew a four-pitch walk off of ASU reliever Chris Bullington, but the Red Wolves stopped the threat with a 3-6-1 double play and Bullington struck out center fielder Matt Laird to end the inning.

Arkansas State got both runs back plus another in the eighth to go up 11-4.  Baumgartner got aboard with a leadoff double and scored on a base hit from Watts, and the Red Wolves took advantage of a ULM error and a wild pitch to score the remaining two runs.

The Red Wolves tacked on the final three runs in the ninth when Watts hit a two-run home run and catcher Lawson Hipps plated the final run with a 6-3 ground-out later in the inning.

Arkansas State starter Chase Ware picked up the win on the mound to improve to 3-0 in the year.  Ware gave up four runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts and four walks in six innings of action.  He struck out five of six batters in the fifth and sixth innings, including a strikeout of the side in the sixth.  Bullington went two innings in relief, giving up no runs on two hits with a pair of strikeouts and a pair of walks, and junior Ryan Blackburn worked the final inning.  Blackburn struck out one batter while giving up one hit and no walks.

"They worked together and all three did a good job," said Raffo.  "There was a big moment for Chase in the fourth when he walked a run in and that was kind of their moment to break it open, but Chase denied it and got a ground ball-out.  Then after we scored six in the sixth, Chase went out there and put a zero on the board for them in the bottom of the inning and that really helped our ballclub out."

Senior Keith Christensen (1-1) took the loss on the mound for ULM, giving up four runs on eight hits, with four strikeouts and three walks.  Poche was 2-for-3 with an RBI to lead the Warhawks at the plate.