The moment the ball came off Canyon McWilliams' bat in the bottom of the first inning Tuesday night, there was a collective "oooh" from the home crowd.
There was little doubt where the ball was headed. It was only a matter of where it would eventually land.
McWilliams' three-run home run was just the start for the senior as the University of Arkansas-Little Rock pulled away from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff for an 11-4 win at Gary Hogan Field in Little Rock. Although the Trojans mustered no runs and just one hit between the second and sixth innings, McWilliams kickstarted the hosts' late outburst with an RBI double in the seventh -- UALR's first baseman finished the night 3 for 3 with 2 runs, a walk and 5 RBI.
"We needed to get off to a good start," McWilliams said. "Our offense has been doing a good job of that the whole season, and we knew that on the midweek, scoring is always important."
After jumping on Golden Lions starter Mike Gerwitz for four runs in the opening inning, the hosts went cold. There were chances during their next five at-bats, yet nothing to show for it.
UAPB (9-30-1) applied some pressure, tying things thanks to four unearned runs in the fourth inning after Nathan Lyons booted a would-be inning-ending groundout to third.
"Everybody kind of gets tight right there and starts playing a little too careful," Trojans Coach Chris Curry said. "We just talked about ... how good this team has been in the seventh, eighth and ninth. Getting tight and playing not to lose has never won anybody a ballgame."
If there was tension, UALR (21-19) gave itself some breathing room with a five-run seventh. After a single and a walk to start the inning, McWilliams floated a double all the way into the left-field corner. Miguel Soto followed with a sacrifice fly and Lyons made up for his earlier error with a single to score McWilliams.
Freshman Jaxon Anderson, serving as the designated hitter, belted a two-run homer over the wall in deep right-center field two batters later. It was the Greenbrier native's first collegiate home run.
Another first Tuesday night came courtesy of Trojan freshman Michael Quevedo, who picked up his first victory after relieving starter Matthew Davis. Quevedo allowed four hits in 5 1/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts.
Not only was it the longest outing for the left-hander, but it was only his fourth since Curry opted to burn his redshirt last week against Louisiana Tech.
"To potentially find two more arms in May? I can't put a value on that," Curry said of the possible emergence of Davis and Quevedo. "It's very easy to tell who's coming in the game for Little Rock. ... If you can find two more guys down the stretch, that can change your season."
Pitching has been equally challenging at times for the Golden Lions. Although Gerwitz settled in after a rough first inning, UAPB used infielders Peyton Niemann and Dante Leach in the seventh and eighth, respectively.
Assistant coach Roger Mallison, who served as head coach with Carlos James absent because of health problems, explained that the Golden Lions' staff has been decimated by a combination of freak injuries.
"[These games] can be pretty tough when you play the midweek schedule that we play," Mallison said. "But our pitchers that threw tonight did their job, so I can't complain about that one bit."
The win extended UALR's winning streak to five games, and with nine Sun Belt games among their final 10 regular-season contests, the Trojans know they'll need to continue their momentum to ensure a spot at the conference tournament in three weeks.
"Every game feels like at some point, the hitters are putting the pitchers on their back and at some point, the pitchers put the hitters on their back," McWilliams said. "We're all fighting for each other and it's been a blast the last couple of weeks."