The Little Rock Trojans waltzed into the Torii Hunter Complex on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on Tuesday, and the Golden Lions beat them 7-4.
The Trojans were a hot team entering the game as they sit on top of the Sun Belt's Western Division, so this wasn't a gimmick game by a long shot. UAPB Head Coach Carlos James has previously said he knows that the Golden Lions can be a powerhouse, compete with every team in the state, and on a national level.
The Golden Lions backed those words up by handling the Trojans from the start to the finish on Tuesday.
Little Rock starting pitcher McKinley Moore is a big kid who stands about 6'6 and throws it from 92-95. James was highly pleased with how his guys handled Moore, and how they didn't stand down at all.
UAPB red shirt junior Peyton Burks, who was previously a weekend starter for Pine Bluff, took the mound as the starter against Little Rock. Burks pitched seven and 1/3 innings, and James credits him for bouncing back from some early season struggles to be able to put forward the performance he did on Tuesday. Burks only allowed two runs by Little Rock, and he threw six strikeouts on the day.
"When he left we were ahead and he did a wonderful job," James said of Burks. "That was his third time he's been out in the past two weeks. He threw a complete game on Friday, and a few days later came out and held one of the hottest teams in the Sun Belt down to two runs. I can't say enough about him."
James was able to make the adjustment of moving Burks into the mid-week starting position as junior Cody Holmes has really come on for the Golden Lions.
"It's been the emergence of Cody Holmes," James said. "We decided to move him into the weekend rotation with T. Reynolds and T. Lopez. We're going with a four-man rotation the rest of the way. We've done it in the past as we're trying to get ready for the tournament that's around the corner."
After going scoreless in the first two innings, the Golden Lions got things rolling in the third. UAPB junior Nick Kreutzer recorded a two-run RBI double out to left field to give them a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Senior J.P. Soriano then singled through the right side for a RBI that brought Kreutzer home.
A sacrifice fly by UAPB junior Ryan Mallison scored the runner from third to give the Golden Lions a 4-1 lead.
It would stay that way until the seventh inning, when Little Rock's M. Ragan recorded an RBI triple to pull the Trojans to within two runs. However, UAPB responded with two more runs in the bottom half to pad their lead. A couple of wild pitches allowed the Golden Lions to score an unearned run. That's when UAPB senior Ricardo Sanchez put his stamp on the game with a two-run RBI double to right field to put UAPB in winning position.
The Golden Lions had a good day at the plate against a formidable high-major opponent, and James believes it'll help them going forward.
"That's huge for us," James said of their at bats. "Anytime the top of the lineup can give you good at bats it's good, but today it went all the way down to number six, Ricardo Sanchez who scored on a big double that put us up 7-2. We had a tendency to start late, but lately we've started faster. We're also answering. We work hard and it's good to be where we are coming down the stretch going into the tournament."
According to James, with more support, the UAPB baseball program could be a national powerhouse.
"Only if we could get some type of fundraiser going or some type of support," James said. "We have to get our scholarship limit up, improve our stadium from the way it looks, and we can be a premiere program. We have good players, just not enough of them with the scholarships and the facilities we have. I really believe in my heart if those things got better we could take that jump and compete on a national bases."