JONESBORO, Ark. (AStateRedWolves.com) — Arkansas State first baseman Zach George slugged a three-run, walk-off home run to lift the Red Wolves (18-13, 8-2) to a 7-6 victory over the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (14-15, 2-8) Friday night in the Sun Belt Conference series opener between the two teams at Tomlinson Stadium and Kell Field.
The Red Wolves trailed 6-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth, but plated two runs in the inning to move within striking distance in the ninth. A pair of infield singles, the first by right fielder Kaleb Brown and the second from center fielder Michael Faulkner, put the tying runs aboard with no outs in the ninth, and George cleared the bases with his shot over the right field wall.
"It was a neat ending; we had some guys that didn't give in," said ASU head coach Tommy Raffo. "They made a very athletic play, but we beat the short throw in the middle of the field to get the second runner aboard in the ninth. That extended the inning and gave Zach a chance to do a good job on the ball on a 1-0 count. He got a good pitch to hit and it left the ballpark."
"The biggest part was to close the gap in the eighth and make it a little bit closer game," added Raffo. "We didn't do a very good job of playing catch tonight and it showed up in their score. They scored some runs off of our errors. In this league, you are going to pay if you give free bases up, whether it be a walk, an HBP or an error. They made us pay, but fortunately, the kids hung in there, and late in the game, we won the seventh, eighth and ninth."
The Red Wolves, who came into the game with a fielding percentage of .971 that ranked second in the Sun Belt, committed an uncharacteristic four errors to help the Warhawks build their four-run lead after seven and one-half innings.
Arkansas State used a sacrifice fly from left fielder Logan Uxa to take a 1-0 advantage in the first, and the lead held until ULM tied the game in the fourth on an RBI single from center fielder Taylor Abadalla. ASU answered with a score in the bottom of the fourth when second baseman Alex Potts grounded out to drive in a run for the 2-1 ASU lead, but the Warhawks scored once in the fifth, twice in the sixth and once in each of the seventh and eighth innings to go up 6-2. Louisiana-Monroe's only earned runs in the stretch came off of a two-run double from designated hitter Brandon Alexander in the sixth. A-State miscues in the fifth, seventh and eighth led to the remaining three ULM scores.
Junior Seth McWilliams (4-0) worked the final three innings to pick up the win for ASU, giving up two runs on three hits, with three strikeouts and a walk. Senior starter Jacob Lee went six innings, giving up four runs on six hits, with seven strikeouts and a pair of walks. Lee's career strikeout total now stands at 245, just six short of the all-time record at ASU. Will Browning (4-2) took the loss for ULM, pitching one third of an inning and giving up three runs on three hits with no walks and no strikeouts.
Arkansas State out-hit ULM 13-9 on the night, with George, Faulkner and shortstop Dustin Jones each going 2-for-4. First baseman Joey Rapp was 3-for-5 to lead Louisiana-Monroe.
The Red Wolves and Warhawks will resume the series at 4:00 p.m. Saturday.
GAME ONE NOTES
- Jacob Lee's career strikeout total now stands at 245, six short of the ASU career strikeout record of 251 set by Rusty Bourg in 1967-70.
- With his single in the first, freshman right fielder Collin Massanelli extended his team-high on-base streak to 17 games.