CONWAY, Ark. – Bryce Biggerstaff stymied the Texas A&M – Corpus Christi offense in the two teams' first game of the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament to give Central Arkansas a 3-1 victory over the Islanders on Wednesday at Bear Stadium.
Biggerstaff tallied his fourth consecutive complete game, throwing 127 pitches while allowing just one run on six hits. Offensively, the Bears were led by their top hitter, as First Team All-Southland outfielder Doug Votolato went 4-for-5 at the plate with two RBIs.
Matt Danton picked up the loss, allowing three runs on 10 hits over six innings, while also tallying five strikeouts. Brandon Tierney recorded the lone RBI for the Islanders, while Cody Stephens had the only multi-hit game with two knocks in four at bats.
Tournament host UCA (30-21) was able to get the victory, just as the Islanders (30-26) knocked the Bears off in game one of last season's tournament. However, UCA was able to claw its way through the loser's bracket and eventually win the 2013 tourney en route to its first NCAA Tournament berth.
This is now what A&M – Corpus Christi will look to achieve, starting with a noon meeting Thursday against No. 2 Nicholls in an elimination game. The Islanders now fall to 3-2 in Southland Tournament openers, however, their best run in the tournament did come following a loss in game one, as they picked up three wins in 2011.
Both Danton and Biggerstaff were completely locked in to start the game, as each righty set down the opposing lineup in order their first time through. The first inning took just seven minutes on 13 pitches, with the next two innings nearly as quick at 12 and nine minutes, respectively.
In his second time at the dish, Votolato was able to dribble one up the middle to become the first baserunner of the game. Wesley Hoover then followed and singled to center to create the first jam of the day for Danton.
The righty was able to come back to get a deep flyout to right field, but Votolato advanced to third on the play. This turned out to be a key 90 feet, as Tyler Langley followed and chopped one over to Garza at short, who did all he could with it, but the throw was just late resulting in an infield single for the first run of the game.
Danton was able to limit the damage though, as he tallied his third strikeout of the game to strand runners on first and third and keep the UCA lead at 1-0.
In the bottom half of the fourth, the Islanders answered with a leadoff single by Jordan Lee to put their first hit on the board. However, Lee was gunned out trying to advance to second on a steal. A Tierney walk, followed by a Stephens single on a slow roller to third did put the Islanders' first runner in scoring position, but Biggerstaff was able to get the final out to keep the lead at one for UCA.
The Bears then came back in the following inning to hang their second consecutive single run up on the board in the fifth. Justin Treece sparked the inning with another leadoff single before two consecutive bunts, one for a sacrifice and one for a single, put runners on the corners, allowing Votolato to come through with his second knock of the game for his 20th RBI of the season to put UCA up 2-0.
After allowing just a walk in the bottom of the fifth, Biggerstaff saw his offense create some noise once again, with the Bears putting runners on first and second with two down. But Danton was able to get out of the inning with a strikeout to keep it at 2-0.
The Bears starter continued to roll through A&M – Corpus Christi lineup, as he tallied his fourth 1-2-3 inning in the sixth to face just three over the minimum through his first six innings pitched.
Votolato came through once again the following inning, as he drove Carson Dowdle in following the nine-hole hitter's leadoff double, as the center fielder notched his 21st RBI of the season to give the Bears a 3-0 lead, chasing Danton from the game after he had eclipsed the century mark in pitches.
Kevin Landgrebe came on for the Islanders and saw Votolato collect a stolen base, before the A&M – Corpus Christi righty came up with a groundout, strikeout and groundout to strand the Votolato on third and keep it at a 3-0 lead for the Bears.
Following the stretch, the Islanders were able to show some signs of life at the plate, as Stephens and Russell Vaughan led off the bottom of the seventh with consecutive singles. Kyle Danford followed by catching the ball square off the bat, but unfortunately for the Islanders, it was directly at second baseman Chris Townsend who gloved it out of the air and threw it over to first for a double play. A foul pop toward the Bears' dugout was then caught for the final out of the seventh.
Landgrebe followed with a very similar top of the eighth inning, as he hit the first batter who then swiped second. The Bay City, Texas, native was able to secure a strikeout and two groundouts again, though, keeping the UCA lead at 3-0.
Zack Gibson became the third Islander to leadoff the inning with a hit, as he dropped one just in front of the UCA right fielder before two consecutive groundouts put him on third. This time the Islanders were finally able to get to Biggerstaff, as Tierney ripped one into the right-center gap to bring Gibson in, cutting the Bears lead to two going into the ninth.
However, this is as close as the Islanders would get, as Biggerstaff came back out to finish off the game and record the victory for the Bears.
Tomorrow's game against the Colonels will be the first meeting between the two teams this season. There will be free online video broadcasts of all games throughout the tournament on the Southland Digital Network, which includes Southland.org and the league's free mobile and tablet apps. The championship game will be carried live on ESPN3.
Fans can also follow along with the Islanders throughout the tournament on social media on Twitter and Instagram (@IslandersBSB) as well as Facebook (IslandersBaseball).