CONWAY, AR - The University of Central Arkansas Bears will try to defend their Southland Conference Tournament title at home beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bear Stadium.
The sixth-seeded Bears, who won the tournament as a seventh seed a year ago, will open play against third-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Ironically, the Bears and Islanders faced each other in the first round last year at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas.
A&M-CC won the opener 5-3 but UCA came back two days later and knocked off the Islanders 8-1, one of the Bears’ five consecutive elimination game victories en route to the championship. Then-junior Bryce Biggerstaff lost the first game in relief but came back and won the second meeting, throwing a complete game.
Biggerstaff will be the starter Wednesday for the Bears, who have won six consecutive games, the longest winning streak for any of the eight teams in the field. Biggerstaff, 6-5 with a 2.89 earned-run average, was a third-team All-SLC selection this week.
The Bears (29-21, 17-13) are led offensively by senior center fielder Doug Votolato, a first-team selection who is second in the conference in hitting at .377. He also leads the SLC in stolen bases (22), is second in on-base percentage (.459), fourth in runs scored (47), sixth in hits (75) and 10th in slugging percentage. Votolato has reached base in 22 consecutive games entering the tournament.
Junior Nate Ferrell is hitting .299, followed by junior Wesley Hoover (.288), junior Brandon Montalvo (.280) and freshman Carson Dowdle (.270). Sophomore Tyler Langley leads the Bears with 4 home runs and 4 triples and is slugging .462. Junior second baseman Chris Townsend, an honorable mention All-SLC pick, leads UCA with 38 RBI.
UCA brings a .267 batting average and a 3.59 earned-run average to the tournament. Junior Chris Caudle has a team-high seven victories on the mound, followed closely by Biggerstaff and sophomore Connor Gilmore with six each. Junior Connor McClain had a team-high three saves, including two last weekend in the Bears’ sweep at New Orleans.
The Islanders (30-25, 19-11) took two of three from the Bears during the regular season in Corpus Christi.
The winner of Wednesday’s game faces the winner of McNeese State-Nicholls at 7 p.m. Thursday. The losers meet at noon Thursday.