Bowling Green, Ky. (5/26/12) - One day after seeing their hopes for making the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament dashed with an 8-3 loss to Troy, the second-seeded Arkansas State Red Wolves (34-22) bounced back to defeat the third-seeded Florida International Golden Panthers 12-4 Saturday afternoon at Bowling Green Ballpark, earning a trip to Sunday's championship game with the win.
After Friday's loss to Troy, Arkansas State needed a Middle Tennessee victory over Troy in Saturday's game one, and a win over FIU (31-26) to win Pool B and advance, and the Red Wolves got both. Middle Tennessee defeated Troy 8-5 to give ASU control of its own destiny, and the Red Wolves, MTSU and Troy all finished 2-1 in pool play, with Arkansas State winning the tiebreak by virtue of their higher seed.
Senior starter Cory Kyle, who took the loss in the Red Wolves 16-5 loss to FIU May 13, held the Panthers to just three runs on five hits, striking out three and walking one over the first four and two-thirds innings. Junior reliever John Koch (1-1) worked the final four and one-third innings to get the win, giving up one run on just two hits while striking out three and walking three.
Freshman catcher Stuart Levy went 3-for-5 with a home run, four RBIs and a run scored to lead the ASU batting attack.
"The guys worked hard," said ASU head coach Tommy Raffo. "They had an opportunity that came up for them after yesterday's loss and I give them credit because they took advantage of it. We were very aggressive. We went after them on the mound and at the plate, and I couldn't be more proud of them."
The Red Wolves took a 1-0 lead in the first when second baseman Zach Maggio drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from center fielder Michael Faulkner, and scored from second on an FIU error. Maggio came home after FIU second baseman T. J. Shantz could not hold on to a pickoff attempt from pitcher R.J. Fondon and slid just under the tag of catcher Aramis Garcia.
FIU evened the score in the third when center fielder Pablo Bermudez doubled to send home a run, but the Red Wolves countered in the fourth with an RBI single from Levy for the 2-1 advantage. Levy topped that with a two-out, three-run home run in the fifth to stretch the A-State advantage to 5-1.
The Panthers used an RBI groundout from first baseman Oscar Aguirre and a run-scoring single from right fielder Nathan Burns in the bottom of the fifth to cut the A-State lead to 5-3, but the Red Wolves countered again, putting up another three runs in the top of the sixth for an 8-3 advantage. Maggio doubled to lead off for ASU and scored on a base hit from first baseman Zach George, Faulkner singled and eventually scored on a wild pitch, and George came home on a single from left fielder Logan Uxa.
Koch got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam with just one run scored in the seventh, designated hitter Claude Johnson belted a two-run double in the top of the eighth to make it 10-4, and a two-run home run from George in the ninth set the final at 12-4.
In addition to Levy's 3-for-5 effort, Faulkner also went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and George finished 2-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs scored. Arkansas State out-hit the Panthers 14-7 on the day, and FIU was led by left fielder Roche Woodard, who went 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
Fondon (6-7) took the loss for FIU, giving up four runs on five hits, with six walks and two strikeouts.
The Red Wolves appearance in tomorrow's championship game will be the third all-time for ASU and first since 1996. Arkansas State won the title in 1994, defeating Lamar 3-2, and finished as runners-up in 1996 after falling to South Alabama 11-6.
Sunday's championship game will be televised by the Sun Belt Network on Suddenlink channel 119 in Jonesboro and by ESPN3.com, other areas should check local listings for availability.
GAME NOTES • Junior Logan Uxa extended his on-base streak to a team-high 27 games when he reached on a fielder's choice in the fifth. Junior Zach Maggio's on-base streak now stands at 21 games after drawing a walk in the first. Sophomore Zach George's on-base streak is at 17 games after a walk in the third. • Designated hitter Claude Johnson's double in the eighth was his 19th of the season - the most for any player in the Sun Belt Conference. • Catcher Stuart Levy's fifth-inning homer was his second home run of the season. • Junior John Koch ,who is the ASU single season record holder with 11 saves and the career record holder with 15, earned his first victory of the season.