CONWAY, AR - The University of Central Arkansas Bears came up short in their bid to repeat as Southland Conference tournament champions on Saturday, losing 9-4 to Southeastern Louisiana in the championship game before a record crowd of 1,007 at Bear Stadium.
The sixth-seeded Bears, who shut out the Lions 4-0 in the 2013 championship game in Sugar Land, Texas, fell behind 6-2 after two innings on Saturday and could never recover. SLU reliever Tate Scioneaux, named the Most Valuable Player, shut the Bears down for the final 5 1/3 innings, allowing just four hits and no runs, while striking out eight.
Four Bears were named to the All-Tournament team, including senior center fielder Doug Votolato, junior third baseman Nate Ferrell, junior pitcher Connor McClain and sophomore second baseman Chris Townsend.
Both teams entered the championship game with perfect 3-0 records in the tournament, and both squads brought back their Game 1 starters for the finale on just two days rest. UCA senior Bryce Biggerstaff allowed four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings of work, while SLU’s Andre Cutura allowed 2 runs, none earned, in two innings of action.
UCA saw its season-high nine game winning streak end and it’s streak of eight consecutive tournament victories come to a close. The Bears are now 8-2 in the past two SLC Tournaments.
“The guys did a great job at the end of the year,’ said UCA fourth-year head coach Allen Gum. We had moment and got on a good run. Today, things just didn’t go our way. Southeastern Louisiana did a good job. They put pressure on us and took advantage of the mistakes we made. It was their day. The ball bounced their way.
“I am proud of our guys. We fought hard at the end. Even when we got down 6-0, we just kept fighting but we didn’t have enough left.’
As Gum said, the Bears (32-22) chipped away at the early 6-0 deficit with two runs in the bottom of the second inning on catcher Charles Deckard’s sacrifice fly and Votolato’s RBI single to center. The closed the gap further with two more runs in the fourth, with Ferrell drawing a bases loaded walk and Townsend getting hit by a pitch, also with the bases full.
But the fifth-seeded Lions, who were playing in their third consecutive SLC championship game, added an insurance run in the sixth and two more in the eighth to put it out of reach.
Freshman leftfielder Carson Dowdle finished 3 for 4 for the Bears, while Ferrell went 2 for 4. Sophomore Bo Stitch threw 4 1/3 innings of two-hit baseball out of the Bears’ bullpen, striking out three and allowing one run.
“I am extremely proud of these guys,’ Gum said. “Even though we didn’t finish our goal of winning the championship, we came together. We battled a lot of adversity this year with injuries and lot of different things. They came together at the end, and I am proud as heck of these guys. They fought hard and finished hard. That is what we talked about was to fight the good fight and finish the course and have faith.’
The Bears lost 10 seniors from last year’s championship team and had a school record three players taken in the Major League Baseball draft. With three weeks left in the season, UCA was in ninth place in the standings, with only the top eight teams making the SLC Tournament field. UCA then won its final six games of the regular season and its first three tournament games before falling in the finale.
Southeastern Louisiana receives the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will find out its regional destination on Monday.