Jonesboro (ASU) – With the bases loaded and two outs on the board in the ninth, Arkansas State shortstop Jordan Kimball denied Florida International third baseman Jeremy Patton of at least a game-tying base hit when he made a lunging grab of Patton's grounder up the middle to preserve a one-run ASU advantage and give the Red Wolves a 5-4 Sun Belt Conference victory over FIU (27-20, 13-11) Sunday afternoon at Tomlinson Stadium and Kell Field.
Kimball relayed the ball to second baseman Giovanni Garcia to record the fielder's choice for the final out, lifting ASU to 26-21 on the season and 14-10 in SBC play, giving the Red Wolves the 2-1 series victory over the Golden Panthers. Arkansas State opened the series with an 8-7 victory Friday night, before FIU evened the count with a 15-2 win in Saturday's game two.
Sunday's win also secured a berth in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament for the Red Wolves for the first time since the 2006 season.
Arkansas State sophomore Jacob Lee (6-2) held the Panthers, which went into the series batting a league-best .335 as a team, to two runs on five hits in seven and two-thirds innings to pick up the win. Lee finished the afternoon with five strikeouts and three walks. Junior Brad Allen earned the save, going to the mound in the ninth to retire Patton.
"Credit our guys for battling through because we knew they were going to make a run at us," said ASU head coach Tommy Raffo. "We were just trying to figure out how to get the last out, which was very difficult against their great lineup."
"Credit Jacob as well for his effort throughout the game," added Raffo. "He held them down and we were able to expand the lead a little bit, and Brad Allen got the ground ball that Kimball threw to Garcia for the last out.
Lee gave up a double to FIU center fielder Pablo Bermudez to lead off the game that eventually led to a 1-0 first-inning lead for the Golden Panthers, but Arkansas State countered with four runs in the fourth and another in the fifth that proved to be enough for the win.
The Red Wolves got on the board in the fourth when catcher Kyle DeGrace delivered a bases-loaded double to give ASU a 3-0 advantage. Run-scoring singles from Kimball in the fourth and fifth innings provided the remaining two Arkansas State runs and put the Red Wolves on top 5-1 after five innings of play.
Florida International did not score again until a solo home run from left fielder Jabari Henry in the eighth trimmed the Red Wolves' lead to 5-2. Bermudez and pinch-hitter Raiko Alfonso both drove in runs for FIU in the ninth before Allen came on to get the final out.
Starter Aaron Arboleya (4-2) lasted just three and one-thirds innings in taking the loss for the Golden Panthers. Arboleya gave up four runs on four hits and four walks and did not strike out an ASU batter.
Kimball went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, DeGrace was 2-for-4 with three RBIs and Garcia was 2-for-5 to lead the Red Wolves' batting attack. Bermudez, Henry and right fielder Yoandy Barroso all had two hits to lead FIU.
The Red Wolves will remain at home for a pair of midweek games next week, hosting Murray State May 11 and Ole Miss May 12. Both games are scheduled to get underway at 6:30 p.m. Arkansas State will return to Sun Belt Conference play May 14 when the Red Wolves travel to Troy, Ala. for a three-game weekend series against the Trojans.