RUSSELLVILLE —The Arkansas Tech baseball team kept pace with the top tier of the Great American Conference and won their seventh conference series of the year thanks to an 8-4 win in the opening game of Saturday afternoon's doubleheader. ATU nearly completed the series sweep with a thrilling seventh-inning rally that forced extra innings, but ultimately it was Harding that came out on top to stave off the sweep.
In the opener, the Wonder Boys (23-14, 20-10 GAC) got out to the early lead on a two-run home run to straightaway centerfield off the bat of Jonathon Arrieta. The home run was the third in the series for Arrieta and the 10th of the season. It also marked his second season with double-digit home runs as a Wonder Boy.
That 2-0 score held until the bottom of the fifth when the Wonder Boys struck for four runs on six hits. Elijah Boyer got things rolling that frame with a sharp double down the left field line. Garrett Crews then traded places with him as he doubled down the opposite line to right. Two batters later, Crews scored the second run of the inning on a single up the middle by Evan Hafley.
Josh Detweiler then followed with an infield single and he and Hafley later advanced 90-feet on a wild pitch. With Hafley at third and Detwiler at second with two outs, Arrieta shot a single the other way through the right side to plate both and account for the final two runs of the frame.
In the top of the sixth, Harding was finally able to get to Wonder Boys' starter Riyan Rodriguez as they cut the 6-0 deficit in half with three runs on three hits. All three of the runs were charged to Rodriguez who was chased from the start. Mason Griffin (Rogers, Ark.) came on in relief and eventually ended the inning with a stikeout looking.
Rodriguez would remain in line for the win and the prospects grew greater in the bottom of the frame as the Wonder Boys got two of the runs back to push the lead back out to five runs. In that inning, Crews hit a one-out single and then reached third in the next at-bat as Matt Robbins doubled down the left field line. Hafley then nearly hit a three-run home run, but his laser out to right field hit off the top of the wall, scoring Crews and Robbins. Hafley would be credited with a double as he was cut down trying to advance to third for a triple.
After neither team scored in the seventh, Harding (20-17, 15-15 GAC) picked up one final run on a home run to left field. That solo shot brought the opening game to its final score of 8-4.
In the second game, the Wonder Boys found themselves trailing 5-0 through three innings of play as the Bisons scored twice in the second and three runs in the third.
The comeback effort began in earnest in the fourth inning however as the Wonder Boys scored three runs on four hits. What was impressive about that was the fact that the entire rally started with two outs in the inning.
After the first two batters were retired on just four pitches, Trace Maddux doubled down the right field line. Arrieta then singled through the left side to move Maddux to third. In the ensuing at-bat, Kandon Bennett connected for his first home run of the year to make it a 5-3 game.
That score held until the bottom of the seventh when the Wonder Boys put together a thrilling rally that eventually forced extra innings in the scheduled seven-inning game.
In that bottom of the seventh, Gabriel Garcia, who came on as a pinch-hitter in the fourth, led off and jumped on the first pitch he saw and hit a home run out to centerfield to bring it to a one-run game. After a ground out, Robbins smashed a no-doubt solo homer out to right field to tie the game at five-all. Two pitches later, it looked as though the Wonder Boys walked off as Hafley hit a ball to the deepest part of left-centerfield, but the Harding centerfielder was able to leap up and rob the homer from Hafley. Detweiler then did nearly the same thing as he sent a ball to the warning track in left-centerfield for the final out.
The Bisons used the momentum from those game-saving plays and struck for three runs on three hits in the top of the eighth inning. That proved to be the difference as Harding held on to win the finale a final score of 8-5.
The Wonder Boys will now prepare for their final regular season series and will have the luxury of playing it at home as they host Southeastern Oklahoma. The three-game series is scheduled to start with a single game on Friday, May 7 at 6 p.m. and conclude with a doubleheader on Saturday, May 8 starting at 1 p.m.
That weekend will also be Senior Weekend as the departing seniors on the 2021 Wonder Boys baseball team will be honored.