May 24, 2008
LAFAYETTE, LA - A resilient Florida Atlantic University team fought through injury and Louisiana's midday heat to stave off elimination and is one victory away from playing for the 2008 Sun Belt Conference Championship title.
FAU did what they do best - hit home runs - using three homers to build up a 5-0 lead and the Owls held on to beat Western Kentucky University 6-5, setting up a do-or-die game for both clubs tonight to decide who plays in tomorrow's championship game.
Florida Atlantic (32-26-1) needed the win to stay alive in the double-elimination, eight-team tournament and will play Western Kentucky (32-24) again tonight at approximately 8:30 p.m. ET.
Owls' All-Sun Belt Conference shortstop Nick Arata led off the game with a solo home run to right field.
FAU entered post season play ranked 5th nationally in homers per game.
The middle of FAU's lineup got to Hilltoppers' lefty starter Bart Carter (6-5) in the fourth. Jeremy Griffiths singled to begin the inning and Mike McKenna and William Block each followed with hits pushing the Owls' lead to 2-0.
Jake Wells stayed alive on a 3-2 count by fouling off a series of pitches in the bottom of the fifth and ended up hitting a lead-off double, forcing hard-throwing Owls' starter Jeff Beliveau to work deliberately in order to get out of the inning in attempt to hold the tenuous two-run FAU advantage.
Beliveau (5-4) struck out the next batter, one of his six K's, and worked through the frame- shutting out WKU and allowing just three hits through five complete innings.
Run support in the sixth came in the form of two more FAU homers. Alex Silversmith hit his third in as many days, a two-run shot to left field and two batters later Tom Hatcher also took Carter out to left, a solo job that made the score 5-0.
Carter would not make it through the inning, surrendering five runs on eight hits through 5 2/3.
Just as a victory seemed eminent for the Owls, another lead-off double put WKU in position to score in the bottom of the sixth and moments later Beliveau was thrown out of the game after saying something in passing to first base umpire Scott Cline. Beliveau had attempted to cover first base on a groundball hit towards the left side of the infield and after Cline ruled the runner safe, Beliveau was not allowed to continue even though no apparent argument was seen between the two parties.
With runners at the corners and nobody out, junior lefty Alex Pepe came in from the FAU 'pen. Pepe allowed both inherited runners to score and an RBI single by Wells made the score 5-3.
"The ejection completely changed the game," said FAU head coach Kevin Cooney. "Young men are supposed to keep their composure and evidently he didn't keep it enough in the opinion of the umpire. That was a big swing of momentum for WKU."
Freshman Mike Gipson was able to wiggle FAU out of the inning, but when Arata was forced to leave the game with a leg cramp after he swung and missed at the first pitch of FAU seventh, there was no doubt that the momentum had swung into the favor of the Hilltoppers heading into the game's later stages.
Gipson managed to work his way through the bottom of the seventh and FAU loaded up the bases offensively in the eighth. WKU reliever Adam Balcom issued a full-count walk Troy Bubley, who had come on to spell Arata, giving Gispon a 6-3 lead to work with heading into the bottom of the eighth.
In temperatures around 90 degrees and high humidity contributing to the heat's affect, Silversmith succumbed to cramps in the eighth. Silversmith was catching his seventh straight game.
Gispon protected FAU's three-run lead until a Wade Gaynor double and another Wells RBI single cut FAU's lead down to 5-4 in the ninth. Wells went 3-for-5 and had a pair of RBI for WKU.
Senior Chris Eberhart, who retired all 11 batters he faced in relief last night, struck out Adam Rusnock to end it.
GAME NOTES: Arata led-off a game with a home run for the second time this season, doing so just one week ago at FIU (5/17)... FAU's three homers pushed the team's season total to 98... The two schools met in the tournament's first round- a 9-0 WKU victory... FAU won the season series 2-1 in Boca Raton (April 25-27).
-Nick Mirkovich (FAU Media Relations)-