Feb. 19, 2011
AUBURN, Ala. -- Saturday's baseball game between UAB and Arkansas State at the Auburn Tournament featured small-ball plays for most of the night. Sixteen of the game's 18 hits were singles, and the teams combined for five sacrifice bunts as they tried to move runners and manufacture runs.
In the end, however, the contest was defined by one of its two extra-base hits. Ryan Ussery's two-run blast to straight-away center in the eighth inning broke open a tie game and powered the Blazers to their first victory of the season, a 5-3 win at Plainsman Park.
"It's a different game with the new rules for bats this year," UAB head coach Brian Shoop said. "You're not going to see nearly as many home runs, but we've seen that you can still get a ball out if you get it right on the sweet spot. Ryan certainly did that."
UAB (1-1) will conclude play at the tournament Sunday at 3 p.m. CT against host Auburn, the No. 23 team in the country. Fans can follow the action through Gametracker live stats at uabsports.com or through All-Access streaming video for a fee at auburntigers.com.
The Blazers managed to win Saturday's game despite watching a 3-0 lead evaporate in the seventh inning. UAB starter Dillon Napoleon left on an early-season pitch count with no outs and one runner on the seventh, and that's when the Red Wolves rallied.
Arkansas State (0-2) produced four of their nine hits in the inning and plated three runs. Logan Uxa's RBI single off UAB reliever Ben Bullard knotted the score at 3-3, and ASU still had runners on the corners.
That's when Ryan Nance came out of the UAB bullpen to settle things down, striking out the first batter he faced to keep the game tied. After UAB went back ahead in the top of the eighth on Ussery's homer, Nance held Arkansas State scoreless over the final two frames to pick up his first win as a Blazer.
"We have confidence in a lot of our guys out of the bullpen, and Ryan is one of them," Shoop said. "We felt good having the ball in his hands late."
Napoleon wound up with a no-decision but was masterful in his first outing as a Blazer. The former junior college All-American shut Arkansas State out through the first six innings. He was charged with one run for the night, striking out five batters and allowing only four hits. Napoleon out-dueled Arkansas State starter Jacob Lee, the preseason Sun Belt pitcher of the year, who allowed two runs in his six innings of work.
"We've seen two really front-line pitchers in our two games this season, but we sent a pretty good one to the mound tonight," Shoop said. "Dillon threw fantastic, and we're excited about what he brings to our pitching staff."
In addition to Napoleon's pitching, the big storyline early in the game was the offense UAB generated because of Nick Crawford's speed.
The Blazer leadoff man scored the opening run in an unlikely way on a straight steal of home. He made his break on a 1-1 pitch and beat the delivery from Lee and the tag by Arkansas State catcher Tyler Smith. Two innings later, Crawford forced a throwing error by Lee on a short ground ball and sprinted all the way to third base. He then came home on a sac fly from Keith DePew.
Seven different Blazers recorded a hit in the game, led by Austin and Ussery with two each. Austin also stole two bases to give him three steals through two games. Ussery's game-winning home run came against Arkansas State reliever Brandon Farley, who suffered the loss.
On the mound, the UAB trio of Napoleon, Bullard and Nance did not allow a single walk. It was the first time the Blazers had gone an entire game without issuing a walk since March 20, 2010 against Western Illinois.