UCA moves on to winner’s bracket

Sports

SUGAR LAND, TX – In a career full of big performances on the mound, University of Central Arkansas senior Cody Davenport may have outdone himself Wednesday in the first round of the 2019 Southland Conference Tournament at Constellation Field.

Davenport was absolutely dominant in a complete-game, six-hit, 2-0 victory over the defending champion Northwestern State Demons, striking out 11 and walking one. The 11 strikeouts made the Fayetteville native the career strikeout leader at UCA with 270. His 22nd career victory also ties the school record. Davenport improved to 7-4 this season and dropped his earned-run average to an even 2.00. 

The second-seeded Bears (30-25) advance to face sixth-seeded Stephen F. Austin at 4 p.m. Thursday in the winner’s bracket. SFA upset No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana in first-round action Wednesday. UCA took two of three games from the Lumberjacks during the regular season in Conway.

“He led us, he led us,’ said UCA head coach Allen Gum. “He wanted it, he went after it. We asked him going into the ninth… and he’s honest. If he’s got gas, he’ll tell us. And what he did right there was, he said “I got this.’ He wanted and he got it and it was awesome.

“That kind of senior leadership, that’s going to carry on forever as far as how players think of him. He’s a workhorse. He’s kind of like ol’ Jack Morris, he’s that kind of guy. If he wants the ball in the ninth, you give him the ball in the ninth, because he’s got it.’

Davenport, who played outfield and pitched as a freshman at UCA, said there was no doubt he was finishing the game and saving the UCA bullpen for the remainder of the tournament. 

“Coach Harlan came to me and said “what do you think?’ Davenport said. “I was like, I got it. Don’t even think about going to the pen.’ 

They didn’t need to as Davenport cruised through the Demons’ lineup, throwing 90 strikes in 127 pitches on a hot, humid day. And the Bears did just enough offensively to give him the cushion he needed. UCA scratched across a run in the bottom of the first inning against NSU ace Nathan Jones (7-4) when junior second baseman Jay Anderson led off with a single up the middle and scored on senior Tyler Smith’s RBI double in the left-center gap, which capped an eight-pitch at-bat by the first baseman.

The Bears made it 2-0 in the third when Jones momentarily lost his command of the strike zone. Junior center fielder Josh Ragan had a one-out double to left before Jones issued three consecutive walks, the final one to junior right fielder Alonso Bibiano that produced the only other run of the day.

“We did that early,’ said Gum. “And I thought we had a couple of chances and we made a couple of mistakes where maybe we could have added one more. One more would have felt like, with Dav the way he was throwing, would have felt like four more. We didn’t (get it) but the pitching overcame that.’

The Demons (30-24) only got two base runners into scoring position against Davenport the entire game. He struck out the side in the eighth inning to break the school record of 269 career strikeouts held by Matt Whitaker (2006-08). 

“We always talk about the starting pitcher setting the tone and giving us a chance to win,’ said Davenport, who also owns school records for starts (55) and innings pitched (364.1). “Coach said last night it was going to be big guy on big guy and I took that challenge. That was a good arm on the other team. Obviously we scored two runs against a pretty good arm and we played great defense today, and I was thankful for that. I knew they weren’t scoring today.’

“We have tough guys. It’s not always about who hits the best, it’s who grinds it out. Coach always talks about having grit, and we have a lot of guys with a lot of grit. And that’s important.’ 

Davenport held a dangerous NSU lineup _ one that entered the game with 43 home runs and 100 doubles _ to six hits, and only two for extra bases. UCA finished with eights hits, including two by junior left fielder Cole Fiori. Junior catcher Nathaniel Sagdahl also threw out a Demon baserunner, his 12th of the season.

The 11 strikeouts was the second-best total of the season for Davenport, who struck out 13 against Abilene Christian three weeks ago. His final strikeout on Wednesday gave him the career mark.

“Well-earned, well earned,’ said Gum. “The reason he is (the record holder) is because he’s a guy who always wants the ball. He wants to be the starter, he wants to be the middle guy, he wants to close it. And because of that, no wonder he’s the strikeout leader. He’s just meant so much to our program because of stuff like that. He’s just tough, a gritty, hard-nosed college baseball player that will probably get a chance to play on the next level. And he’ll take that grit and guts there and will be awesome.

“He’s just a great leader for our team.’

“It’s a blessing,’ said Davenport of breaking the 11-year-old record. “You know, I’ve kicked around here for a long time and thrown a lot of games, so it was pretty cool to get that record. I was counting in my head, I knew when I got it.’

The Bears will now turn to a true freshman Noah Cameron for their second-round matchup with the Lumberjacks (25-31). Cameron is 6-1 with a 2.63 ERA. The Bears will be trying to reach their fourth SLC championship game since 2012.  

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