Bears drop first game at SLC Tournament

Local Sports
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SUGAR LAND, TX – The second-seeded University of Central Arkansas Bears dropped their first game at the 2019 Southland Conference Tournament on Friday, losing 9-3 to third-seeded Southeastern Louisiana in winner’s bracket action at Constellation Field.

That sets up an elimination rematch between the Bears (31-26) and Lions (33-26) at either 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the 6 p.m. championship game. If McNeese State beats Incarnate Word in Friday’s late game, the Bears and Lions will play at 1 p.m. If MSU and UIW have to play another elimination game, UCA will take on SLU at 9 a.m., followed by MSU-UIW at 1.

The Bears, who beat the Lions two out of three games during the regular season in Hammond, La., had pitching and fielding issues Friday after back-to-back complete-game shutouts in the first two rounds of the tournament. UCA freshman Noah Cameron lost for just the second time this season (6-2), allowing a season-high six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings or work.

The Bears also contributed three errors to SLU’s cause and hit into three double plays. The Lions, who were coming out of the loser’s bracket, broke open a 2-2 game with a six-run sixth inning.

“We just didn’t play a good level of catch today,’ said UCA head coach Allen Gum. “It started off with the first batter of the game when we dropped the (fly) ball. And then we had the guy out I think and we don’t relay it well. We had two bad relays today, we just gave them some extra bases. And we hit a leadoff hitter and that’s what got that inning going. And that’s usually what starts big innings.’

The Lions sent nine batters to the plate in the sixth inning, scoring six runs off five hits, including leadoff hitter Bryce Steckler’s second home run of the game, and third of the day. Taylor Anders relieved Cameron and was greeted by Steckler’s home run before getting a ground out to end it.

“It was disappointing,’ Gum said. “They got some breaks, but also we gave them some breaks. We just didn’t play good, clean baseball today. And their leadoff guy carried them. He had one of those days. He hit two big ones right there. We have to solve that problem tomorrow, no question. 

“We just didn’t play good baseball. Noah didn’t have his best stuff. He was behind in the count that led to a home run. He was behind in the count a couple of (other) times. He hit a leadoff hitter. It just wasn’t his best day, that’s all. But it was one day. It was a bad day so we’ve got to come back tomorrow, regroup, and really just stick with the fundamentals and play a high level of catch.’

The Bears fell behind 1-0 in the first on an unearned run but came back and took the lead with two runs in the second inning. Junior Beau Orlando singled up the middle to lead off the inning and Tanner Wiley was hit by a pitch. Alonso Bibiano’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners before Orlando scored on a wild pitch. Cole Fiori was hit by a pitch and Christian Brasher reached on an fielder’s choice, with Wiley scoring on a throwing error on the same play.

The Lions tied it back up with a run in the third on Steckler’s leadoff home run. He entered the day with two home runs for the entire season.

The Bears finished with seven hits off four SLU pitchers, with second baseman Jay Anderson and Orlando both collecting two. UCA added a final run in the ninth when Tyler Smith brought home Anderson, who walked and moved up on a balk and a ground out. 

“We had some quality at-bats lined up and then one guy would break it,’ said Gum. “It would either be a double play or a strikeout or something like that. But I thought we did a good job when we got behind, to at least make them go to some other arms. And hopefully that will help us out tomorrow. I feel like they didn’t want to, but they had to bring in a couple of guys.’

The Bears used only Anders out of the bullpen after two complete games from their starters. UCA will be playing its fourth game Saturday and SLU will be in its fifth outing.

UCA and SLU played twice in the SLC championship game, with the Bears winning the title in 2013 in Sugar Land, and the Lions knocking off the Bears the next season at Bear Stadium in Conway. One of the two will be playing for another title at 6 p.m. Saturday.

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