May 24, 2012
Boca Raton, FL - The Florida Atlantic University baseball team picked up a victory in the bottom of the ninth inning for the second straight game, defeating Western Kentucky University 4-3 in Wednesday's opening game of pool play in the Sun Belt Conference championship tournament.
Junior outfielder Nathan Pittman came around to score from second base in the bottom of the ninth inning when WKU reliever Taylor Haydel committed an error on a failed pickoff attempt at first base.
Pittman walked to start the ninth inning and then advanced into scoring position on the fourth hit of the game by senior infielder Mike Albaladejo. Then, with no outs and a 1-1 count, Haydel attempted to throw over to first base to catch the FAU baserunner. However, WKU first baseman Ryan Huck had left first base uncovered in anticipation of a bunt by freshman shortstop Mitch Morales.
"I've never seen a game end like that," said John McCormack, FAU's head baseball coach. "I kept urging Pittman to keep coming (toward home plate) and I originally thought (the umpires) were going to rule it a balk. Overall, it worked out well for us." FAU's winning run came after the Hilltoppers stranded the go-ahead run at second base with one out in the top of the ninth inning. Senior reliever Ahmed Garcia stopped the threat by getting a line-out at second base and a groundout to shortstop. Wednesday's game marked the third straight season that WKU and FAU had faced in their tournament openers. The previous two meetings had gone extra innings.
"It was a typical FAU-Western Kentucky Sun Belt Tournament game," stated McCormack. "A win like this can get us going for the rest of the tournament. It was not a typical No. 8 versus No. 1 matchup. It was a tough game."
FAU wins its SBC pool opener and improves to 32-20 on the season. The team will battle the University of Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday, May 24, at 4 p.m. ULM is also 1-0 in pool play after picking up a 7-4 win in 10 innings over the University of South Alabama on Wednesday.
In their game, Owls fell behind early as WKU (24-32) scored two first-inning runs on four hits. Ryan Hutchison and Casey Dykes had back-to-back RBI singles for the team that is hosting the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
FAU answered in the third inning when junior third baseman Kyle Newton hit a two-run double to score Pittman and Albaladejo. Newton came around to give the team a 3-2 advantage following a single by junior first baseman Mark Nelson.
The one-run margin would last until WKU's Scott Wilcox hit a sacrifice fly to plate David Simmons in the top of the seventh inning.
Albaladejo, who earned first-team all-SBC honors this season, collected four hits to pace the Owls' 10-hit offensive attack. Nelson had two hits in the victory.
Garcia improved to 3-0 on the season after pitching two scoreless innings in relief. Senior starting pitcher Ryan Garton received a no-decision. He allowed two earned runs in seven innings, and struck out five batters.
"We got out of the game by using only two pitchers. That could benefit us later," stated McCormack.
The Hilltoppers' Jared Andreoli had two hits in the team's six-hit offensive attack. Haydel suffered the loss, dropping to 2-3 on the season. He recorded four strikeouts.
Live audio and statistics of Thursday's second-round pool round game can be found at www.fausports.com.