LITTLE ROCK, AR (ASU) — Arkansas State senior Cory Kyle went a career-high eight innings on the mound, giving up three runs while scattering eight hits to lead the Red Wolves to a 7-3 victory over the Trojans of UALR Saturday afternoon at Gary Hogan Field. Kyle finished the afternoon with four strikeouts while issuing just two walks.
With the win, the Red Wolves completed the weekend sweep of the Trojans (26-28, 12-18) to finish the regular season at 32-21 overall and 19-9 in Sun Belt Conference action. The Red Wolves went into the contest one game behind Florida Atlantic in the league standings, but came up just short in their bid for their first-ever Sun Belt Conference title.
Arkansas State needed a loss from Florida Atlantic in its game with Florida International to tie for the Sun Belt title, but the game in Boca Raton was rained out, leaving the Red Wolves one-half game back in the final standings. FAU ended the season at 19-8 in league play. The Red Wolves' second-place finish in the SBC standings is ASU's highest since the 1993 season, when Arkansas State finished second in the Sun Belt East Division.
"It was a very tough win, but all wins in the Sun Belt are that way," said ASU head coach Tommy Raffo. "It's going to go down to the wire when you've got teams that are so competitive. I would say that 75-80 percent of the games in the Sun Belt came down this way. Cory was efficient, did a great job in the strike zone and got some early outs. He did a wonderful job for us and we are very proud of his effort."
"We can only control what we can do," said Raffo, when asked about the FAU rainout. "We can't dictate what goes on down there. We can only control what we came to the ballpark to do, and I am very proud of that."
The Red Wolves got on the board in their first at-bat, getting an RBI single from left fielder Logan Uxa for an early 1-0 advantage. Uxa's base hit drove in center fielder Michael Faulkner, who singled to lead off the game, moved to second on a groundout from right fielder Collin Massanelli and went to third on a fly ball to center field from first baseman Zach George.
The 1-0 lead held until the Trojans hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth, the first one a two-run shot from first baseman John Clark and the second being a solo homer from center fielder Cameron Bentley that put the Trojans on top 3-1.
The lead proved to be short-lived, however, as Arkansas State batted around in the sixth, plating four runs to take a 5-3 lead. Faulkner and shortstop Dustin Jones both singled to drive in runs in the inning, second baseman Zach Maggio drew a bases-loaded walk and catcher Stuart Levy sacrificed to center field to bring home the remaining run.
The Red Wolves added two more in the eighth on a two-out, two-run double from George to make it 7-3, and Kyle retired the Trojans in order in the bottom of the inning. Kyle gave up two hits and walk in the ninth to load the bases with no outs before giving way to junior Seth McWilliams. McWilliams struck out second baseman Chris Burk, then got designated hitter Greg Garcia to line into a game-ending double play to earn his first career save.
George went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs, while Faulkner and Uxa added two hits each to lead the Red Wolves. Right fielder Myles Parma went 2-for-3 to lead UALR. Sophomore Bryson Thionnet took the loss for the Trojans, giving up five runs on seven hits, with four strikeouts and two walks in 5.2 innings of work.
As the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, Arkansas State will now take on the No. 7 seed Wednesday, May 23 at 3:00 p.m., unless Western Kentucky is the seventh seed. In that case, as the host team, WKU has the option of playing in the 7:00 p.m. time slot. The Red Wolves would then face the tournament's No. 6 seed Friday at 3:00 p.m., then wrap up pool play against the No. 3 seed Saturday at 7:00 p.m. The championship game, pitting the winners from each of the two pools, is scheduled for Sunday, May 27 at 1:00 p.m.