Wrapping Up the Sun Belt Baseball Tournament

I somewhat joking posted a tweet (@ASUJeffReed) last week about the Arkansas State Red Wolves' baseball team being one-hit wonders.

Not so much that they were just getting one hit in a game, but more to the thinking of what would happen if they could get that one key hit.

More and more down the stretch it became apparent that this team struggled on offense. Leaving double-digit runners on base was common. The thought here is that it goes back to injuries that cost the team a couple of key bats and forced major reshuffling of the lineup.

In the final game of the season, a 5-4 loss to Florida Atlantic in the Sun Belt Conference tournament Saturday morning in Lafayette, the Red Wolves left 10 on base and had the tying run nailed at the plate in the ninth inning. They also had three errors in inning when FAU put together 3 runs to take played a major role in the outcome.

Still this team, that reached the final four of the SBC tournament was not close to the team that Tommy Raffo thought he would have when making plans for the season last fall. The Red Wolves in the final four joined teams that are in the national picture. The RPI of the teams remaining were FAU 27, ULL 22, South Alabama 15 and Arkansas State 139.

Still, they got there.

With Zach Maggio, a senior who really played well down the stretch last season, and Zach George, a switch-hitting force in the run-producing part of the lineup, out ASU had to realign its defense and its batting order. And it forced Raffo to place some younger players in prominent roles. Still they fought, thanks in part to strong pitching, that was even more evident in the tourney.

Going into Saturday morning's game, the ASU hurlers Daniel Wright, Bradley Wallace, John Koch and Cody Woodhouse had worked 27 innings, allowed 24 hits, struck out 16 and walked just four. They allowed nine runs -- all earned -- and had pitched the team into contention for the tourney title.

On Saturday, Raffo had to reach deeper into the rotation because the top four had all thrown at least 78 pitches and were spent. Sophomore Chandler Hawkins was an out away from working fourth innings and was on the field in the fourth when the Red Wolves' defense -- which had committed just two errors in three games -- had two in one inning. He was charged with four runs -- two of them unearned. Seth McWilliams worked 2.1 innings, and was charged with a run, and freshman David Owen worked the final two innings, striking out four and giving no runs.

But we have seen this before. Under Raffo, ASU is now 8-7 in SBC tourney. They have won at least two games in the tourney in the four seasons he has gotten them here.

The Red Wolves are on the cusp. Soon they will make that next step.