Red Wolves Rise To The Tournament

With three conference series left, AState was 5-15 in league play and appeared unlikely to make the league tournament then they went 7-2 down the stretch in conference play.

In a hectic stretch run where almost every game was treated with a Game 7 approach, Arkansas State coach Tommy Raffo said it was fun watching his team respond.

“I’ve said all along I really like this group; I like their approach,’’ said Raffo, whose Red Wolves used an impressive late run to leapfrog two teams on the final weekend and earn their sixth straight Sun Belt Conference tournament appearance.

“It has been seeing the guys compete. They just never gave up. They were just never out of the fight. It has been fun.

“We have basically had our backs to the wall the last three series. I think you can go back and do research and I don’t even think we had the lead in a lot of those games until late. The neat thing is there are a lot of different ways that we did it. No doubt we did earn it.

In the final seven Sun Belt wins, AState scored the winning run in the 7th inning three times, the 8th inning once, the 9th inning twice, and once in the 14th.

“Now we get to start all over and play for championship. We will be the visitor in every game but we are all in the same boat.”

The Red Wolves (25-28, 12-17 SBC) won their last three SBC series and closed the season winning 5 of 6 with the only losing coming to UALR on Sunday. A-State, which has won 6 of its last 8 series with the Trojans, finished tied with UALR in the standing but by winning the series held the tie-breaker.

“Friday was such an emotional game (a 4-3 victory in 14 innings)

UL-Monroe, which was swept by rival UL-Lafayette to finish 10th by a half-game at 12-18. ULM defeated the Red Wolves 2 of 3 in their series in Monroe.

“My first year (2009) we missed the tournament by half a game because Monroe had played one less game than we had played,’’ said Raffo. “We won the series down there. Funny how that happened with the same two teams involved.”

Arkansas State will face South Alabama. They went 1-2 vs. the Jaguars, winning 4-1 in the middle of the series and falling 2-1 in the finale. The Red Wolves have beaten every team in the tourney except Georgia State (0-2) and Troy (0-3).

“The important thing is we can now play for a championship,’’ said Raffo, who incorporated and different offensive philosophy after the sweep at Troy.

“There are certain times when you just have to let the game play,’’ he said. “And there are certain times when you have to be more aggressive.”

“Our pitchers had worked so hard and used too much effort to keep us in games. We needed the offense to pick things up.”

Raffo pointed out the team’s pitching and defensive stats for most of the season were not those of a team that was in the cellar. Part of the issues was leaving runners on base and giving up too many outs on the bases.

“After that Troy and ULM swing were we went 1-5 it looked like we were dead in the water,’’ said Raffo. “There was not a lot of movement. We did not have much room, we almost had to finish perfect.”

For the past four years the Red Wolves have won at least two games in the SBC tournament. In 1994 A-State won the tournament and played in the title game in 2012.