Harding's bats came alive in the final two innings and the Bisons rallied for a 4-3 win over the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys in the Gulf South Conference Baseball Tournament semifinal at USA Stadium in Millington, Tenn., on Tuesday afternoon.
The loss eliminated Arkansas Tech (32-19) from the GSC Tournament, while Harding (41-11) advanced to face Southern Arkansas for the GSC Tournament championship.
Arkansas Tech starting pitcher Cody Hatman held the Bisons to just two hits through the first seven innings and the Wonder Boys led 3-1 going to the eighth inning.
Chase Presley sparked the Bisons' comeback with a lead-off single in the eighth. Billy Ninemire followed with a single of his own, and Hatman was lifted in favor of ace Tech reliever Nate Wilder. Wilder was 2-0 with a 0.54 earned run average going into Tuesday.
He induced a double play ground ball from Jason Nappi for the first two outs of the inning, but Erin McCarver followed with an RBI single and Trent Kinnear drove in the tying run with a double.
The Wonder Boys went quietly in the bottom of the eighth and the game went to the ninth inning with the score tied 3-3.
Designated hitter Matt Calhoun, who was making his first start of the tournament for Harding, started the final frame with a double. Three batters later and with two outs in the inning, Presley doubled off the wall in left to bring Calhoun in with the go-ahead run.
Madison Beaird (photographed) got Arkansas Tech's first hit since the fifth inning when he doubled to begin the bottom of the ninth off Harding closer Billy Ninemire. He went to third on a wild pitch, but Ninemire induced a pair of line outs to left field and a pop out to short to strand the tying run at third base and preserve the Bisons' victory.
It was Ninemire's fourth save of the season, two of which came against Arkansas Tech. He stranded the tying run at second base when the Bisons beat the Wonder Boys 8-6 in their only regular season meeting.
Marc McRae (4-0) pitched three and one-third hitless and scoreless innings of relief for Harding to earn the win. Wilder was the losing pitcher.
Beaird was 2-for-4 with a run batted in for Arkansas Tech. Wilder was 1-for-3 with an RBI. Matt Johnson went 1-for-4 and extended his school-record hitting streak to 34 consecutive games.
Now the question becomes whether or not Johnson and the rest of the Wonder Boys' seniors have played their last game. Arkansas Tech was unranked in the final regular season NCAA Division II South Region baseball poll, and the Wonder Boys would have to go from unranked to No. 7 in the region in order to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Eight teams from the South Region are invited to that tournament, but in order to earn an at-large bid a team must be ranked seventh or higher because the eighth spot will go to the champion of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The bracket for the 2011 NCAA Division II Baseball Tournament will be announced on Sunday, May 15. If Arkansas Tech's name does not appear on that bracket, then the 2010-11 athletics season will be over.
If the 2010-11 athletics season is over, so is Arkansas Tech's membership in the Gulf South Conference. Tech joined the NCAA Division II league in 1995.
Arkansas Tech and eight other institutions --- the University of Arkansas-Monticello, East Central University, Harding University, Henderson State University, Ouachita Baptist University, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Southern Arkansas University and Southwestern Oklahoma State University --- will move forward as the charter members of the NCAA Division II Great American Conference in fall 2011.
Click here to learn more about Arkansas Tech Athletics.]]>