BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Wil Browning worked a scoreless bottom of the ninth inning to give the ULM baseball team a 4-2 win over Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game Sunday afternoon at Bowling Green Ballpark.
The Warhawks earned their first Sun Belt Tournament Championship, and will continue play in the NCAA Regional round. ULM last clinched a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2000.
Caleb Clowers and Judd Edwards were each named to the all-tournament team, while Browning was selected as the Most Outstanding Player.
Dustin Jones singled through the left side off Randy Zeigler in the bottom of the seventh inning and then moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt from Zach Maggio. A wild pitch from reliever Kendall Thamm (6-3) moved Jones to third base with only one out. A Zach George sacrifice fly scored Jones and put Arkansas State (34-23) in front 2-1.
The Warhawks (31-28) did not take long to answer, as Joey Rapp stung a leadoff double to the gap in right center off Brandon Farley (2-4) in the top of the eighth inning. A Brandon Alexander RBI double to right field scored Rapp from second and tied the game at 2-2. Edwards reached base on a fielder's choice, and Taylor Abdalla successfully sacrificed both runners into scoring position. Farley intentionally walked Corben Green to load the bases with only one out. Justin Stawychny delivered against reliever Bradley Wallace, lacing a single up the middle to score Alexander and give ULM a 3-2 lead. Wallace then hit Les Aulds to up the Warhawk lead to 4-2. Daniel Short forced Clowers to ground out to shortstop to end the ULM surge.
Ryan Emery sliced a pinch hit single to left field off Browning in the bottom of the eighth inning, and the runners moved over on a groundout by Ryan Roberts. Jones popped up to Clowers at second base and Maggio grounded out to Rapp at first base to get Browning out of the bind.
Michael Faulkner worked a full-count walk in the bottom of the ninth inning before stealing second base to move into scoring position. Browing forced George to fly out to center field and Claude Johnson to ground out to second base for frame's first two outs. Logan Uxa popped out to Jeremy Sy at shortstop to end the game.
Corben Green reached base three times to pace the ULM offense, drawing a pair of walks. Aulds added a team-high two RBIs.
Aulds got ULM off to a flying start, depositing a 1-2 pitch from Arkansas State starter Jacob Lee over the right field wall for a leadoff home run that gave the Warhawks a 1-0 lead. Sy worked a four pitch walk, and then advanced to second base on a Lee wild pitch and third on a deep fly out off the bat of Rapp. Lee struck out Alexander swinging to end the inning and strand Sy at third base.
George reached on a ULM fielding error to keep the bottom of the first inning going, and a Johnson single off Zeigler moved George to third base. Zeigler struck out Uxa swinging to escape the jam.
Alex Potts turned on a 2-2 Zeigler offering in the bottom of the second inning, crushing his first home run of the season over the left field fence to tie the game at 1-1. Faulkner hit a hard ground ball up the middle, but Clowers made a nice diving stop to put out Maggio at second base to end the inning.
Zeigler worked a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the third, as George flied out to right field, Johnson grounded out to a diving Clowers at second base and Uxa struck out swinging.
The Warhawk left-hander was equally impressive in the fourth inning, striking out Potts and Stuart Levy looking to shut the Red Wolves out for the second consecutive frame.
Green singled off Lee to open the fifth inning, and Logan Fiasco laid down a perfect bunt single with two strikes to give the Warhawks two men on with no outs. A perfect sacrifice bunt by Aulds moved both runners into scoring position. Lee punched out Sy looking for the inning's second out, but hit Clowers to load the bases. Lee got Rapp out on strikes to dodge a major threat.
Edwards grooved a one-out double to the gap in right center off Lee in the top of the sixth inning, but Abdalla was retired on strikes for the second out of the frame. Lee intentionally walked Green to bring up the pinch hitter Stawychny. Lee induced a 4-3 groundout to hold ULM at bay.
Johnson singled to open the bottom of the sixth, and moved into scoring position on an Uxa sacrifice bunt. Potts deposited a single into left field that moved Johnson to third base. Zeigler struck Levy out on a 3-2 offering that stranded both men on base.
Zeigler allowed two runs on seven hits over 6.1 innings, walking one and striking out nine. Thamm threw 0.2 of an inning of relief to earn the win. Browning worked the final two frames for his sixth save of the season.