BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AStateRedWolves.com) — The second-seeded Arkansas State Red Wolves (33-21) opened the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament in dramatic fashion, rolling to a 12-1, run-rule victory over the seventh-seeded Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State (29-28) Wednesday afternoon at Bowling Green Ballpark.
The Red Wolves used a six-run fifth inning to build a 9-0 cushion, then put the game away in the seventh when left fielder Logan Uxa sent a towering three-run homer over the right field wall for the 12-1 final.
Senior Jacob Lee improved to 9-1 on the season, working all seven innings to pick up the win. Lee struck out four while giving up one run on five hits, with a pair of walks.
"I think the biggest thing was Jacob getting the game under control for us early, and he was really good," said ASU head coach Tommy Raffo. "We were able to expand the lead, and when we got the six runs, it was kind of contagious. We fed off of each other, had some good at-bats and barreled some balls up."
Arkansas State used a two-run double from third baseman Claude Johnson to get on the board in the third, taking a 1-0 lead when first baseman Zach George came home from first on the hit, sliding just under the tag of MTSU catcher Dain McNabb. An opposite-field RBI single from designated hitter Ryan Emery drove in Johnson for the 2-0 ASU advantage in the third, and a two-out solo home run from right fielder Collin Massanelli, the first of his career, gave the Red Wolves a 3-0 after four.
A single from Uxa, a double from Johnson and a walk from Emery loaded the bases with no outs, and a walk from second baseman Zach Maggio got the scoring started in the big fifth inning for ASU. Maggio's walk made it 4-0, a double from catcher Stuart Levy added two more runs, a double from shortstop Dustin Jones sent home another run and center fielder Michael Faulkner singled to drive in the final two runs of the inning for the 9-0 A-State cushion.
"Our offense can do that," said Lee. "You get nine guys to buy into an approach, and that is what can happen. Everyone wants to do the same thing and goes up there with the same mindset and hitting is contagious."
Middle Tennessee got on the board in the sixth when shortstop Ryan Ford got aboard with a leadoff walk, moved to second on a base hit from first baseman Justin Guidry, and scored when third baseman Hank LaRue grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
Lee kept the Blue Raiders off of the bases in the top of the seventh, setting the stage for Uxa's two-out home run to end the game.
Uxa, Johnson and Faulkner all had two hits to lead the Red Wolves, with Uxa driving in three runs and scoring twice, Johnson sending home one and scoring twice and Faulkner driving in two and scoring once.
Starter Jonathan Sisco lasted just 2.1 innings in taking the loss for MTSU. Sisco walked five batters and gave up two runs on one hit with one strikeout. No Blue Raider had more than one hit in the game.
The Red Wolves will now face sixth-seeded Troy Friday at 3:00 p.m., then wrap up pool play against third-seeded FIU Saturday at 3:00 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.