Playing in their sixth elimination game in the past eight days, the Central Arkansas Bears showed that the threat of neither elimination nor rain was enough to put them away. The fourth-seeded Bears overcame a rain delay and a comeback attempt to win their first ever NCAA tournament game, defeating the third-seeded Mercer Bears by a final score of 6-5 in eleven innings to keep their season alive for at least one more day.
Central Arkansas (40-21) wasted no time in getting on the board Saturday afternoon, plating a pair of runs off of four hits in the top half of the first inning. Right fielder Forrestt Allday opened the game with a double to left-center field and was moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by center fielder Jonathan Davis. Left fielder Ethan Harris gave the Bears an early 1-0 lead, plating Allday with a double down the right field line. After a fly out gave the Bears a runner on second base with two outs, catcher Michael Marietta singled to center field off the glove of Mercer (43-18) starter D.J. Johnson, scoring Harris from second and pushing the Central Arkansas lead to 2-0.
Mercer got on the board in the bottom half of the third, cutting the Central Arkansas lead to 3-1. After Enloe struck out the first two batters of the frame, center fielder Sasha LaGarde worked a walk. Third baseman Chesny Young, who is currently riding a 30-game hitting streak, roped a double to left-center field, plating LaGarde from first and cutting the Central Arkansas lead to two runs. Enloe bounced back though, forcing a ground out to second base to end the threat.
Mercer made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh, finally breaking through against Enloe for three runs to pull to within 5-4. Benn got the inning started with a single to left field and moved to second base on a single by shortstop Evan Boyd. LaGarde ripped a double off the wall in right field to plate Benn and cut the lead to 5-2, ending Enloe's day. Bryce Biggerstaff came on to throw for the Bears, and a pair of sac flies to right field made the score 5-4 before he could get out of the inning with a foul out to first base.
After a scoreless tenth inning, Central Arkansas took advantage of a pair of rare defensive lapses by Mercer, who entered the game with the best fielding percentage in the NCAA. Davis led off the inning by hitting a ground ball to Young at third base. Young bobbled the ball twice, allowing Davis to reach base without a throw. Davis used his legs to move into scoring position, stealing second base after faking twice. A ground out by Harris advanced Davis to third. Marchal hit a high pop up to shallow right field and it appeared as though Davis would be unable to score, but a deke towards the plate drew a throw from right fielder C.J. Reed. The throw was high, glancing off the catcher's mitt and reaching the backstop, allowing Davis to score from third to give the Bears a 6-5 lead.
Enloe was effective for the Bears throwing six innings and allowing four runs on nine hits and a pair of walks while striking out five batters. Biggerstaff (6-4) earned the win in relief, throwing five innings. He allowed a single run on one hit and two walks, and struck out three batters.
"I'm proud of our guys because they're continually doing things that have never been done in our program," said Central Arkansas head coach Allen Gum in reference to the team's first NCAA tournament win. "Mercer is an outstanding club; they fought us to the end. They're a class act and it was fun being on the field with them." Asked about how the Bears were able to take the punches that Mercer was throwing late in the game, Gum joked, "I'm aging in dog years; I'm surprised I have any hair left. Our whole year was one run games. We're so used to it that these tight games are just kind of standard, there wasn't any panic or anything like that." Asked about Davis' go-ahead run in the top of the eleventh, Gum said, "I just said ‘make him make a throw.' It was a blessing for us that the throw sailed on him a bit, we just got a break, and that's all we were trying to do."
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