BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AStateRedWolves.com) — Arkansas State (34-23) held a 2-1 lead after seven innings in the championship game of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament, but the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (31-28) rallied with three runs in the eighth and went on to defeat the Red Wolves 4-2 Sunday afternoon at Bowling Green Ballpark.
The game featured outstanding efforts from both starting pitchers. Arkansas State senior Jacob Lee struck out seven batters in six innings, giving up one run on five hits and three walks, while ULM junior Randy Zeigler fanned nine in six and one-third innings. Zeigler gave up both of ASU's runs on seven hits and a walk.
"It was a hard-fought game with lots of emotion," said ASU head coach Tommy Raffo. "You had two number-one pitchers that went after it and gave it all they had. We couldn't ask for anything else from Jake, what a wonderful effort on his part. It was more than we thought we could get from him."
Lee worked seven innings Wednesday to get the win in the Red Wolves 12-1 tournament-opening victory over Middle Tennessee.
Both teams used solo home runs to get on the board early, with ULM left fielder Les Aulds leading off the game with a shot to right field, and ASU third baseman Alex Potts answering with one over the left field wall to tie the game at 1-1 in the second.
Neither team could manage a run until Arkansas State scored in the seventh. Shortstop Dustin Jones led off for the Red Wolves with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice from second baseman Zach Maggio, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice to right field from first baseman Zach George for the 2-1 ASU advantage.
The Warhawks answered in the eighth with three runs to take the lead. First baseman Joey Rapp led off with a double and scored on a double from center fielder Brandon Alexander to tie the game at 2-2. An RBI single from catcher Justin Stawychny put the Warhawks on top, and Aulds was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to make it 4-2, ULM.
Arkansas State threatened in the bottom of the eighth, taking advantage of back-to-back singles from right fielder Kaleb Brown and pinch-hitter Ryan Emery to get the tying run in scoring position, but ULM pitcher Wil Browning retired three consecutive batters to stop the rally. A-State got the tying run to the plate in the ninth after center fielder Michael Faulkner drew a leadoff walk, but Browning, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, again retired three consecutive to put the game away.
Potts and designated hitter Claude Johnson had two hits each to lead ASU at the plate, while ULM's eight hits were scattered among eight players.
Senior Brandon Farley (2-4) took the loss on the mound for ASU, giving up three runs on two hits and a walk in one and one-third innings. Sophomore Bradley Wallace worked one-third of an inning for ASU, giving up no runs on one hit with one strikeout, and junior Daniel Wright worked the final one and one-third innings, retiring all four batters he faced, with a pair of strikeouts.
Kendall Thamm (6-3) worked two-thirds of an inning and picked up the win for ULM, giving up no runs on one hit with two walks. Browning earned his sixth save of the season, working the final two innings without surrendering a run on one hit.
"This is a special team and it always will be," added Raffo. "It's just unfortunate that they came up just a little bit short in the tournament. They have worked so hard, and they are a very close group. There are a lot of special guys. I know we will be losing five seniors, but hopefully we can build on this year."
Following the game, Johnson, Faulkner and Lee were named to the all-tournament team, along with ULM second baseman Caleb Clowers and third baseman Judd Edwards. Also named to the all-tournament team were Troy pitchers Nate Hill and Tyler Ray, Troy third baseman Danny Collins, Florida Atlantic infielder Mike Albaladejo, Middle Tennessee first baseman Justin Guidry, South Alabama pitcher Andrew Fonzi, Western Kentucky outfielder Jared Andreoli and Florida International outfielder Nathan Burns.