JONESBORO, Ark. (astateredwolves.com) – The battle for second place in the Sun Belt Conference baseball standings did not become any clearer after Arkansas State and Texas State split a doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Tomlinson Stadium.
Both teams entered the series tied for second in the league standings and the Bobcats' took a brief lead with a 4-3 extra-inning victory in the day's first game, but the Red Wolves battled back in the game two behind Eric Wilcoxson's first career home run that powered A-State to a 5-4 win.
The true freshman from Walnut Ridge, Ark., broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the seventh inning with a towering blast over the fence in right –centerfield that gave A-State (15-12, 6-2 SBC) a 5-3 lead.
Morgan Croft came on to pitch the final two innings to earn his team leading fourth save of the season. It was not easy for the senior, however, who gave up a run in the top of the eighth and then loaded the bases to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. The Broken Arrow, Okla., native battled back however and induced an inning-ending double play to get out of the jam and then pitched a perfect ninth to close out the game.
Texas State (16-10, 6-2 SBC) starting pitcher Austen Williams struggled with his command and A-State took advantage in the early innings. Matt Burgess led off the second with a single and then advanced to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a dropped third strike. He came around to score on another wild pitch to put Arkansas State up 1-0.
The Red Wolves added to the lead in the third inning on an RBI single from Burgess that plated Austin Baker who had reached on an infield single earlier in the inning.
A-State starter Chandler Hawkins was solid through the first four innings and tied a season-high with six strikeouts, but the left-handed hurler from Millington, Tenn., ran into trouble in the fifth. He issued a leadoff double, an RBI single, hit a batter and then another RBI single to allow the Bobcats to tie the game at 2-2.
Arkansas State answered in the bottom half of the inning with an RBI single from Baker that scored Wilcoxson, but Texas State responded in the top of the sixth with an RBI groundout to tie the game at 3-3 to setup Wilcoxson's go-ahead home run.
In the day's first game, Arkansas State rallied from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning to force extra-innings but could not recapture the magic in the final three innings for just its second SBC loss of the season.
Dustin Jones started the comeback rally with a one-out single and Brett Nickle followed with a pinch-hit single through the right side to put runners on the corners. Collin Massanelli made it a 3-2 game with an RBI single andZach Maggio tied the game with sacrifice fly to right that brought in Kaleb Brown, who had come in to pinch run.
In the extra-innings, Lemke settled in and quieted the Red Wolves' bats, which allowed the Texas State hitters to go to work. Cody Woodhouse suffered the loss after issuing a leadoff walk in the top of the 12th and then an RBI double which proved to be the go-ahead run for the Bobcats.
Massanelli led A-State at the plate by going 5-for-8 with an RBI and two doubles, while Burgess added three hits and an RBI on the day.
A-State and Texas State will play the series finale Sunday, March 30 at 11 a.m. at Tomlinson Stadium.