Tampa first baseman Shawn Pleffner’s one-out single up the middle scored shortstop Patrick Donahue from second with the winning run in the bottom of the 13th inning as the 13th-ranked Spartans ended No. 12 Southern Arkansas’ season with a 4-3 setback Friday in the NCAA Division II South Region tournament at West Florida’s Jim Spooner Field. The Muleriders lost 8-3 to North Alabama in Thursday’s opener.
It was the earliest exit ever for a SAU team in six regional appearances, having made it to the championship game in 2004 and last year in Tampa, when the Spartans took one of two games from them to claim the region title. They advanced to the semi-finals in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Both clubs struggled at the plate Friday in the marathon 13-inning affair, recording only seven hits apiece. Southern Arkansas again had trouble in coming up with a timely hit, stranding 16 runners, and leaving a combined 25 on base in their two losses at the regional.
Junior right-hander Doug Shields (Mesquite, Texas) gave a gritty performance for the Muleriders, tossing 10 innings of the contest, before giving way to freshman right-hander Janson Carr (New Boston, Texas) to start the 11th. Carr (3-1) also performed well, giving up three hits in 2 1/3 innings, before suffering the loss in allowing the lone run in the final frame. Shields surrendered three runs, two earned, on four hits and walks, while striking out three.
SAU struck first in the second inning, getting a two-out RBI single from junior center fielder Gavan McCauley (Prescott), but left the bags full.
Tampa evened it in the fifth on an RBI groundout by center fielder Cody Davis.
Southern Arkansas went back in front the next frame via a sacrifice fly from senior second baseman Adam Boucher (Conway).
The Spartans tied it again in the bottom half with a run-scoring single off the bat of Pleffner, and took a 3-2 lead in the seventh with an unearned run that came off a sacrifice fly from catcher Adam Pendleton.
The Muleriders wasted another opportunity in the eighth, getting only one run for a 3-3 game, and again leaving the bases loaded. Senior first baseman Pat Johnson’s (Natchitoches, La.) two-out walk with the bags full provided the run.
It stayed scoreless from there, with each team picking up only a hit apiece over the next four innings before Tampa got three consecutive singles to pull it out in the 13th.
Pleffner and Donahue each had a pair of hits and RBI to lead the Spartans.
Senior designated hitter Chris Harrison (Saline, Mich.) and junior right fielder Jason Dahl (Batesville) finished with two hits apiece for SAU.
Tampa sent five pitchers to the mound, with Aaron Gerbasi (2-2) throwing the final 5 1/3 for the win, holding Southern Arkansas in check in striking out five, while giving up just one hit and walking three.
The Muleriders end the season at 36-16, while the Spartans improve to the same record of 36-16, and now advance to play the loser of the West Florida and Barry game on Saturday.
(Article courtesy Houston Taylor, Southern Arkansas University Sports Information Department.)