Making its Ohio Valley Conference Tournament debut Thursday, the University of Arkansas-Little Rock made easy work of Tennessee Tech with a 4-1 victory at Marion Stadium in Marion, Ill., closing within two victories of a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade.
Jackson Wells (7-4) pitched a complete game for the Trojans, scattering three hits and striking out seven on 117 pitches.
"We talked about ... our brightest stars shining on the biggest stage," UALR Coach Chris Curry said after the game alongside Wells and Nico Baumbach. "[Wells] has been that guy for us all year, [conference] Pitcher of the Year, and he set us up perfectly."
But Tennessee Tech (21-33) took the lead in the top of the third inning. After retiring the first two batters, Wells surrendered a double to Nicho Jordan and leadoff man Troy Baunsgard followed with a single up the middle, putting the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles up 1-0.
UALR (31-21) had lone hits in each of the first three innings, yet it wasn't until the seventh when the No. 3 seed Trojans would really threaten. Skyler Trevino and Noah Brewer got things going with back-to-back one-out singles, and after Christian Bernabe moved both runners over with a grounder back to the pitcher, Ohio Valley All-Freshman honoree Ty Rhoades ripped an inside breaking ball into right, bringing Trevino and Brewer home for a 2-1 lead.
Jake Wright followed with a single to left and Rhoades eluded a play at the plate with a headfirst slide, adding to the UALR advantage.
With Wells continuing to deal -- the Trojan ace allowed only one hit after the second inning -- UALR gave itself some insurance in the bottom of the eighth courtesy of Baumbach.
The Trojans' leading hitter lifted a two-out fastball to left, sending it just over the wall for his 14th home run this season and pushing his average to .373.
"They didn't panic," Curry said of the Trojans' offense. "We knew we were hitting balls hard. This is a pitcher-friendly ballpark for everyone, so you've just got to stick with it and know you're going to string two or three hits together."
A 1-2-3 ninth inning shut the door on Tennessee Tech, sending the Golden Eagles into the losers bracket while UALR will play top-seeded Morehead State today at 2 p.m. Central.
The winner will advance to Saturday's winner-take-all final, while the loser of that game will play again at 6 p.m. with the other spot in the final at stake.
At a glance
OVC BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
at Mt. Dew Park, Marion, Ill.
Morehead State 2, E. Illinois 1
UALR 4, Tennessee Tech 1
E. Illinois 8, Tennessee Tech 2
Tennessee Tech eliminated
TODAY'S GAMES All times Central
Morehead State vs. UALR, 2 p.m.
E. Illinois vs. Morehead State-UALR loser, 6 p.m.