SUGAR LAND, Texas – Texas A&M – Corpus Christi held a 2-0 lead into the top of the eighth inning before falling behind by a 3-2 margin, but the Islanders rallied for three in the bottom half and held off a determined Central Arkansas team in the ninth for a 5-3 final in the opening round of the Southland Conference Tournament.
The team will move on to play Oral Roberts at 4 p.m. on Thursday at Constellation Field.
The Islanders (33-22) got a huge pinch-hit RBI single from Dominic Lopez in the bottom of the eighth for what would be the winning run, and they added an insurance run to make it a 5-3 game. O'Shea Dumes (2-2) got the win after coming on in the eighth in relief of starter Trevor Foss. Matt Danton came on with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth to induce a game-ending double play for his second save of the year.
In a matchup between two of the top starting pitchers in the conference, Foss and Caleb McClanahan did not disappoint during their appearances. Each pitcher finished seven innings, with both giving up two runs on four hits as Foss struck out nine and McClanahan finished with seven.
The Islanders were held hitless for the first three innings of the game, but their first one was a big one, with Zach Taylor reaching on an error to start the fourth and Cody Stephens followed with a two-run home run to left field for the 2-0 lead.
That would be the only runs scored until the top of the eighth, as UCA drew two straight walks from Foss to start the inning to force him out of the game. The first batter Dumes faced reached on a hit-by-pitch to load the bases, but he got the next two batters on a strikeout and a foul out to put the team one out away from ending it with no damage. The next batter followed with a single however, and the game was tied at 2-2. After an error on a pickoff attempt advanced a runner to third, a balk scored the go-ahead run to make it a 3-2 deficit.
The Islanders struck back quickly though, plating three runs in the bottom half to take the lead. Bryce Biggerstaff was brought on in relief for UCA, and Texas A&M – Corpus Christi quickly went to work. After a flyout to start the inning, Vaughan drew a walk and was lifted for pinch runner Kyle Danford. Taylor followed with a double to deep left center and Danford was sent home, but he was tagged out at the plate for the second out of the inning. Taylor moved to third on the same play, and Stephens followed with an RBI single on the infield to tie it up at 3-3.
With the game tied, Eric Weiss singled to move Stephens over to second, and Lopez followed with his pinch-hit RBI single to give the Islanders a 4-3 lead while Weiss advanced to third. With runners on the corners, Texas A&M – Corpus Christi executed the next play perfectly, with Lopez getting himself in a rundown long enough to allow Weiss to score from third and make it a 5-3 lead.
Franco Pace started the ninth and walked a batter before going 2-0 to the second batter of the inning. That brought head coach Scott Malone out of the dugout to bring in closer Jacob Dorris. Things did not start much better, with Dorris hitting the first batter he faced to put the tying run on base. Brad Lambert, who came in to catch at the start of the inning, came up big with a caught stealing against UCA at third base to eliminate the lead runner and leave just one on base. After a walk and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with just one out, Danton came out of the bullpen for a rare relief appearance since taking on a starting role midway through the season. He calmly ended the game, getting a 4-6-3 double play on his second pitch to give the Islanders a 5-3 victory.
Next up for the team will be a showdown against Oral Roberts at 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon at Constellation Field. Trevor Belicek will get the ball for the Islanders, with the ORU starter TBA.
Live stats and video will be available for the matchup on the Southland Conference Tournament Website.
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