Wonder Boys Earn Shot at GSC Title

Arkansas Tech will go to the final day of the Gulf South Conference Baseball Tournament with a chance at the title for just the second time in school history.

The Wonder Boys (32-18) fought off elimination for a third consecutive day by defeating the Southern Arkansas Muleriders 4-0 at USA Stadium in Millington, Tenn., on Monday.

With the win, Arkansas Tech advances to face the Harding Bisons (40-11) at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, May 10. The winner of that game will move on to face Southern Arkansas (35-14) in a winner-take-all contest for the GSC Tournament title at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Any games involving the Wonder Boys will be broadcast in the Arkansas River Valley on KCAB 980 AM.

Click here to access an Internet stream of the broadcast.

Arkansas Tech will have a chance to play for the championship because of the efforts of two unlikely heroes from the pitching staff.

Aaron Luchterhand (photographed) had only pitched six and two-third innings all season for the Wonder Boys before Monday. He had only pitched one inning since March 15.

But instead of looking like an emergency starter, the right-handed Australian went out and shut down the No. 2 scoring team in the GSC.

Luchterhand allowed no runs on three hits over six innings. He struck out four and walked two before giving way to redshirt freshman Ethan Crocker.

A right-hander from Murfreesboro, Crocker worked a perfect seventh inning and pitched around two walks in the eighth inning to preserve the shutout.

Luchterhand and Crocker had to be that good because SAU starting pitcher Joey Cifuentes was equally spectacular.

Brother of former four-year Arkansas Tech softball letter winner Krista Cifuentes, the SAU right-hander used a pair of inning-ending double plays to navigate some early troubles.

The Wonder Boys’ best early scoring opportunity came in the third inning. Danny Higginbotham led off the frame with a single, went to second base on a wild pitch and made it to third on a fielder’s choice.

That was as far as Cifuentes would allow him to go. A pair of ground balls to end the inning kept the game scoreless.

It stayed that way until the top of the ninth. Cifuentes (4-2), who threw 127 pitches, finally ran out of gas. Nick Makris singled, Landon Sullins walked and Colt Loehrs was intentionally passed to load the bases for Arkansas Tech.

The Muleriders went to their bullpen for Devin Avery, but he walked Josh Riley to force home the first run of the game. Nate Wilder followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0.

Another RBI walk — this one recorded by pinch-hitter Michael Rezin — and a run-scoring fielder’s choice off the bat of Chris Reese gave the Wonder Boys a 4-0 edge.

Crocker (3-1) retired Southern Arkansas in order in the bottom of the ninth to polish off Arkansas Tech’s second shutout of the season. It was just the second time all year that the Muleriders had been kept off the scoreboard.

Luchterhand and Crocker combined on a three-hit shutout.

Riley went 2-for-2 and was the only player in the game with multiple hits.

The Wonder Boys started the 2011 GSC Tournament with a 6-5 loss to West Florida on Friday. Since then, Tech has stayed alive with a 12-2 victory over Valdosta State on Saturday, a 4-3 win over North Alabama in 11 innings on Sunday and now its triumph over Southern Arkansas to make it to championship Tuesday.

The only previous time that Arkansas Tech has advanced to the final day of the GSC Baseball Tournament came in 2001. The Wonder Boys fell in the championship round that year to Alabama-Huntsville.

A decade later, Arkansas Tech has a chance to win the GSC Baseball Tournament for the first time in its last chance to do so. All three of the schools still alive in the tournament, along with three other schools from Arkansas and three from Oklahoma, will move forward to the new NCAA Division II Great American Conference beginning in fall 2011.