Sharp pitching helps UTA baseball sweep the University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Freshman pitcher Jackson Blue, left, and sophomore first baseman Steven Saunders celebrate their victory after a game against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on May 2 at Clay Gould Ballpark. The Mavericks won 5-4 in the first game of the doubleheader. 

Sunday’s doubleheader between the baseball team (22-22, 10-5) and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock featured the top two teams in the Sun Belt Conference West Division.

The Mavericks took sole possession of the first seed in the West Division after defeating the Trojans 5-4 in game one and 3-0 in game two at Clay Gould Ballpark.

It’s the first conference series sweep since April 2019, when UTA swept the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Game 1: UTA 5, LR 4

After Saturday’s no-hitter, Little Rock wasted no time scoring the first run of the game off a single from senior catcher John Michael Russ that drove in sophomore outfielder Tyler Williams.

UTA didn’t need 11 innings to score, as the Mavericks strung along multiple hits in the third inning, leading to their first run. Junior infielder Boone Montgomery slashed a double down the left field line, followed up by a single from junior outfielder Phillip Childs.

Senior outfielder Connor Aube cashed in a run with a single that scored Montgomery.

Senior infielder Dylan Paul laced a ball down the right field line, scoring Childs and Aube and giving the Mavericks a 3-1 lead.

Little Rock retaliated in the top half of the fourth, adding two runs to tie the game at 3-all before taking a 4-3 lead off an RBI single from sophomore outfielder Noah Dickerson in the fifth.

UTA responded with an RBI single from sophomore outfielder JD Wadleigh, scoring Paul from second to tie the game once again.

Getting the start in game one of the doubleheader was junior pitcher Kody Bullard. He finished with 5.1 innings pitched, giving up four runs while striking out seven Trojans, and received a no-decision.

Junior pitcher Michael Wong relieved Bullard in the sixth inning with a man on base and one out and took only two pitches to end the inning.

In the bottom half of the sixth, the Mavericks reclaimed the lead off an RBI single from Paul to put UTA ahead 5-4.

Both teams were held scoreless in the seventh and eighth innings, with junior pitcher Tanner King entering the game for UTA in the ninth in an attempt to earn his second save of the season.

It took King eight pitches to retire the first batter, but then a single from the next batter and error on the UTA defense put King in a tough situation to close out a one-run game.

Up to bat for the Trojans was Williams, who hit a liner directly to King that turned into a double play to end the game.

Wong collected his third win of the season, while King added his second save of the season and Paul finished three for five at the plate, with a double and three runs batted in.

Paul felt like he hit poorly in batting practice, and he was happy with how his performance turned out.

“If that’s a bad day, then I’ll take it,” Paul said.

With the win in game two, the Mavericks won the series and collected their fifth consecutive weekend series victory.

Game 2: UTA 3, LR 0

UTA didn’t waste any time on offense to begin game two, with Montgomery crushing the first pitch for the Mavericks over the left field fence.

UTA threatened the Trojans in the following inning, with bases loaded and no outs. However, three straight Mavericks were retired, leaving multiple runs on the base paths.

With the Trojans striving to begin a rally in the top of the fourth inning, Dickerson hit a double down the right field line but was thrown out after attempting to stretch the double into a triple.

“That was a big out. If that guy stays at second, it might be a little different inning, but it was good,” head coach Darin Thomas said.

UTA responded with a small rally of their own after Aube drove in a run in the fourth inning, giving the Mavericks a 2-0 lead.

Little Rock attempted to strike again in the seventh with runners on second and third base, but senior infielder Josh Minjarez made a play on a ground ball to gun down Little Rock junior infielder Nathan Lyons.

Thomas admired Minjarez’s work in the field and said the play in the seventh was a “big league play.”

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Paul put the finishing touches on the game with a home run to right field, giving the Mavericks a 3-0 lead and the win.

“I was leaning with it the whole way, and then you see it disappear with the sun back there, it’s a good feeling,” Paul said. “It was an important run, so I’m happy I’m able to do it.”

Junior David Moffat got the start on the hill for UTA in the second game of the day and pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out five batters.

“I like David on a day like today because he pitches up in the zone a little bit, and the fly balls aren’t really going anywhere,” Thomas said.

Sophomore Brayden Brooks relieved Moffat in the eighth and only needed six pitches to retire the Trojan hitters.

Senior Logan Austin entered the game in the ninth and closed the door on Little Rock without much trouble, securing the series sweep.

“We’ve been playing really good for about a month and a half and haven’t been able to finish off an entire weekend yet,” Paul said. “We’re hitting the stride at the right time against a good team.”

The baseball team will be back in action against Texas A&M University at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Globe Life Field in Arlington. This will be the team’s third and final game at the home of the Texas Rangers.

@D_Tineo4

sports-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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