|Updated: 3/15 10:14 pm
||Published: 3/15 10:12 pm
Hattiesburg, MS - The No. 30 Central Arkansas Bears, in their first week as a nationally ranked team, began a three game set against Southern Miss, a team that is no stranger to the national rankings. Central Arkansas picked up a 3-1 victory in the series opener.
Strong pitching was expected to be the order of the day, and neither starter disappointed. UCA (16-2) gave the ball to righty Caleb McClanahan, who came into the game at 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA and .176 opponent batting average. Southern Miss (7-10) countered with Andrew Pierce, who sat at an even more impressive 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA and .207 opponent batting average. In 57 combined innings, the pair had issued only three walks.
Pierce (4-1) took the loss for the Golden Eagles, despite an effective night on the mound. Pierce threw seven innings of four hit, two run ball, issuing two walks and striking out eight Bears. Cody Livingston faced three batters in the top of the eighth inning, giving up a run on a hit and a walk. Daniel Wineski finished off the eighth, striking out one batter. Nick Johnson threw the ninth for the Golden Eagles, striking out two.
As effective as Pierce was for Southern Miss, he had nothing on McClanahan, who improved to 4-1 on the season. He held the Golden Eagles to a season-low four hits, giving up only one run. McClanahan didn’t issue any free passes and struck out four batters. It took him only 102 pitches to get through the nine innings.
Offensively, it took a while for either team to get going. Both teams were quiet through the first three innings of the game, with the Bears going hitless, and the Golden Eagles scattering a pair of singles. The Central Arkansas bats started to come to life in the top of the fourth inning though. Center fielder Jonathan Davis blasted a double off of the center field wall, and first baseman Scott Zimmerle followed with a single poked through the left side. Central Arkansas coach Allen Gum gave Davis the green light on the play, but left fielder Breck Kline delivered a strike to the plate, and catcher Chase Fowler’s tag covered the plate just before Davis slid in.
Central Arkansas added to the hit column in the top of the fifth, while scoring the game’s first runs as well. Third baseman Garrett Brown started the inning off with a single back up the middle, and designated hitter Kraig Kelley followed with his second walk of the game. Shortstop Justin Treece sacrificed the runners over. Left fielder Ethan Harris came to the plate, and with a 2-1 count laced a double to deep right-center, bringing in Brown and Kelley and giving the Bears a 2-0 lead.
The Bears added an insurance run in the top of the eighth inning, loading the bases with no outs. Jonathan Davis blooped a ball to shallow center field bringing in Harris, but center fielder Dillon Day came up firing and managed to force out right fielder Forrest Allday at third. A caught stealing and a strikeout ended the Central Arkansas threat.
Southern Miss tried to battle back in their half of the eighth, but McClanahan was having none of it. Designated player Austin Roussel picked up the first home run of his Southern Miss. career, hitting a 1-1 offering from McClanahan over the right field fence to lead off the inning. McClanahan appeared unfazed though, retiring the next three batters in order to end the inning.
McClahanan returned to the mound in the ninth inning getting a quick ground out and a strike out before allowing a single to first baseman Tim Lynch. Third baseman Blake Brown hit a towering fly ball to left field, but Harris made a leaping catch with his back against the wall to end the game.
The Bears and Golden Eagles will face off at 1:00 pm tomorrow afternoon before wrapping up the series at 1:00 on Sunday afternoon.