Baseball Squeezes By Troy, 4-3

OF Jeff Schalk tied a career-high with three hits

April 3, 2012

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The UAB baseball team rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the bottom of the eighth, scoring three times capped off by Todd Wilkinson executing a suicide squeeze to defeat Troy, 4-3, at Young Memorial Field on Tuesday.

“That was a great team win,” head coach Brian Shoop said.  “When you lose three over the weekend, especially two you could have won, it takes the life out of you.  The kids competed all night.  We had four starters out, all for different reasons. That was a special win for our kids and a relief for a lot of us.”

Through the first seven innings, the UAB (18-12) offense was held in check by the combination of right-handers Joe Hernandez and Austin Thomas of Troy (13-15).  The Blazers had collected eight hits, seven singles, and stranded nine runners prior to the eighth.

The second inning was the only other frame that UAB crossed home in the contest.  Tyler Mims roped a triple down the right-field line, just out of the reach of a diving Chase Mathis for the first three-bagger of his career.  Harry Clark was the next batter up in the Blazer lineup and drove in the first run for the Green and Gold to tie the score, 1-1. 

Troy had scored earlier in the top half of the inning against starter Tanner Bryant.

The Trojans had a prime opportunity to take full advantage of the ball game in the third, when the UAB staff issued three consecutive walks to load the bases with no outs.  Shoop went to his bullpen and called on Chase Mallard, and the right-hander from Cullman, Ala. delivered.

Mallard induced a pop up to first baseman John Frost in foul territory and two ground outs as Troy was only able to score once without the use of a hit.  That failed opportunity would prove to be costly in the later innings.

In the fifth, Mathis roped a two-out double to right, which looked to score to more runs for the Trojans.  Logan Pierce did score from second to push the Troy lead to 3-1, but Jeff Schalk hit cutoff man Wes Kent in short right field, who spun and fired a strike to home, ending the inning and keeping UAB within two.

Neither team could reach home in the sixth and seventh, setting up the big inning in the eighth the Blazers had been searching for all night.

With one down in the eighth, Mims laced his second hit of the game to start the rally.  Clark followed by reaching on an error in front of pinch hitter Ryan Ussery.  In his first pinch hit appearance of the season, and only the second of his career, Ussery was asked to face Troy closer Tyson Workman (2-2) who entered the night with 25 strikeouts in 19.0 total innings and was holding opponents to a .194 batting average.

Ussery would win the battle with Workman by lacing a single to left on a full count to bring home Mims with the Blazers’ second run of the night.  On the hit, the Troy leftfielder misplayed the bounding ball, which in turn allowed both Clark and Ussery to move into scoring position. 

“For Ryan Ussery, that was his best at bat of the year,” Shoop said.  “That was a heck of an at bat against their closer. He took close pitches, fouled off tough pitches and got the big hit for us.”

Up next stepped Wilkinson, who had entered as a defensive replacement earlier in the ball game. 

Before Wilkinson had a chance to play the hero, Workman uncorked a wild pitch that allowed pinch runner Coy Arrowood to slide home with the tying run.

With Ussery on third and still only one down, Shoop rolled the dice and put on the suicide squeeze.  Wilkinson put down a perfect bunt, allowing Ussery to race home easily with what proved to be the winning run.

“It was pretty nerve racking,” Wilkinson said.  “At first I was trying to hit the ball up the middle, but after Coy scored (on the wild pitch), I knew all I had to do was get the bunt down in play somewhere.”

Fellow freshman Dylan Munger bounced back from a tough outing at East Carolina to send Troy down in order in the ninth for his first collegiate save.  He caught two Trojans looking in the inning.

Another freshman, Alex Luna (1-0), earned his first collegiate victory, giving up only one hit in three scoreless innings of work out the Blazer bullpen.  The right-hander struck out two and walked two.  It was just Luna’s second appearance of the season.

“It was such a tough decision on whether to redshirt (Luna) or not,” Shoop said.  “Last week we decided to pull the trigger and have him pitch this season.  We see him as a weekend guy down the road and he is going to give us some big innings the rest of the year, like he did tonight.”

At the plate, Jeff Schalk tied a career-high going 3-for-4, marking his third three-hit game of the season.  Frost and Mims each went 2-for-4, while Mims also scored twice in the victory.  Frost extended his current hitting streak to eight games.

UAB is now an impressive 13-3 at home and 9-3 in one-run ball games.

The Green and Gold return to the diamond on Friday with a trip to Orlando, Fla. to play Conference USA foe UCF.  Game one of the three-game series is scheduled for Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. CT).