The UCA Bears opened the season with a perfect weekend, sweeping the series against the Grambling State University Tigers, the University of Louisiana — Monroe Warhawks and the Indiana State University Sycamores.
The UCA Bears (3-0) slapped together 13 hits, including a pair of home runs by junior infielder Logan Preston.
Preston hit a solo home run in a three-run sixth inning, then added a two-run shot in the seventh inning to give the Bears an 8-0 lead.
Junior first baseman Braxton Phillips went three for four from the leadoff spot, including a pair of walks. Junior pitcher Connor Gilmore (1-0) pitched six innings, giving up four hits, striking out two players and walking one.
The Bears’ offensive showing against ULM this weekend was impressive.
UCA had 15 hits, double figures for the second consecutive game, with Preston blasting his third home run in two days.
Phillips went three for five with three runs batted in and two runs scored.
Preston, junior outfielder Tyler Langley, senior infielder Nate Ferrell and junior infielder Chris Townsend all finished with two hits.
Junior pitcher Bo Stitch relieved senior pitcher Josh Markel in the fifth and struck out six over three and two-thirds innings to earn the victory.
Junior Brandon Hagerla went seven solid innings, and the Bears won for the third consecutive game Sunday, beating ISU 8-5 at the Warhawk Classic at Warhawk Field.
Hagerla, a righty from Santa Rosa Community College, tossed seven innings, allowing six hits and three runs, and struck out two and walked none.
Junior pitcher Derek Beier pitched the final two innings, allowing three hits and two runs and striking out three as the Bears won the unofficial tournament title with a 3-0 record.
Phillips led the Bears at the plate, going two for four with three RBIs.
The Bears got on an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first as senior outfielder Wesley Hoover singled up the middle and advanced to second when freshman infielder Jacob Richardson was hit by a pitch. Ferrell walked to load the bases before Townsend’s fielder’s choice scored Hoover.
Senior catcher Charles Deckard then got a base hit to left to score Richardson for the 2-0 lead.
The Sycamores (2-1) got a leadoff solo home run in the second from designated hitter Hunter Owen to make it 2-1.
Preston drew a one-out walk, and James Lacy reached on a throwing error by the ISU third baseman.
Langley’s infield single brought in Preston, and Phillips followed with a two-run double to the wall to make it 5-1.
In the bottom of the eighth, Richardson singled, stole second and scored on a bloop double by Townsend that fell in front of the ISU centerfielder and just over the second baseman to make it 8-5.
Beier then got a pair of ground balls back to the mound and a strikeout to end the game.
Senior outfielder Nick Rougeau was excited to get back out on the field this weekend and was proud of the team.
“The most important thing I feel like we accomplished this weekend was playing as a team for the first time against another opponent,” he said.
This weekend’s pitching impressed Deckard, a senior from Blue Ridge, Texas.
“I think all of our pitchers, both old and new, just keep getting better and better,” he said. “They’re down in the bullpen doing drills and working hard every day, and I’m confident that we have a bunch of solid arms that are helping us win some games this year.”
Defense was a key for the Bears to return home with a set of wins under their belt.
Townsend said once the defense is solid, the rest comes together.
“I feel that our defense is really solid,” he said. “Every day, Coach [Allen Gum] tells us to cover the field like the morning dew, and we go after it every game. Our pitching was strong for us, as well. We have a lot of new faces, but these guys go out and compete, which gives us a chance to win.”
Even with the Bears’ impressive weekend, Langley said Gum is preaching the “one game at a time” strategy, hoping to keep the player’s heads in focus.
“The main thing Coach Gum is preaching to us this year is to just stay within the system and stick to the process,” Langley said. “Baseball is a marathon and not a sprint.”
The Bears start a weekend series at 4 p.m. Friday at home against the Eastern Illinois Panthers. On Saturday, UCA hosts the University of Memphis Tigers at 4 p.m. and finishes up the series Sunday against the Panthers at 1 p.m.