Brian Johnson ECU Sports Information
East Central University
Senior designated hitter Rick Hepworth collected four base hits as East Central University held on for a 10-9 victory over Southeastern Oklahoma State in the Great American Conference regular season finale for both teams Sunday at Tiger Field.
The bad news for ECU is that the Tigers have missed out on the postseason tournament after Henderson State routed Ouachita Baptist 12-2 Sunday in Arkadelphia, Ark. ECU needed a win on Sunday and an OBU victory over HSU to reach next weekend’s GAC Tournament in Enid. But only half of that scenario was accomplished.
The Tigers concluded the season at 26-23 overall and 10-13 in the conference while winning two of the three games in the weekend series over the Savage Storm. ECU won the opener 5-3 before Southeastern earned a Saturday split with a 6-0 win.
ECU’s 26 wins this year were the most since the 2004 season in which the Tigers went 30-21 and won the Lone Star Conference North regular-season crown.
Hepworth went 4-for-5 from the plate and drove in two runs with an RBI single each in the first and fourth innings and doubled once in the third before ultimately scoring.
Teammate Thomas Mobley was 3-for-4 with a two-run triple in the third inning and a run-scoring single in the seventh while two other Tigers – Jeff Schmidt and Gilbert Guardado – finished with two hits apiece.
Schmidt, playing in his final collegiate game, went 2-for-3 with two runs batted in and scored twice. He also executed a sacrifice bunt to key the first run of the game and was hit by a pitch. Guardado was also 2-for-3, knocked in a run with a single up the middle in the third and also drew a walk and eventually scored ECU’s final run in the seventh.
Ethan Gold hit a big two-run single in the third inning during an eight-run, seven-hit frame.
Senior southpaw Jeremy Custer (4-4) went 6.1 innings for the victory as he allowed five earned runs off eight hits with a pair of walks and three strikeouts. Donny Williams, Gabriel Martinez, Josh Rodriguez and Heath Stuckey also saw mound duty.
Stuckey, despite giving up a two-run homer in the ninth, recorded his fifth save of the season. He recorded one strikeout in the process.
ECU had a 14-13 edge in total hits.
The Tigers had to survive four homers from the Savage Storm as Brad Shankle, Dalton Nelson, Kevin Phillips and Nick Grimmett went deep.
Fortunately for ECU, no more than one runner was on base in each of those blasts. Shankle and Grimmett each had two-run shots while Nelson and Phillips had solo-efforts.
SOSU starter James Taylor (4-2) was tagged with the loss after leaving the game after 2.1 innings. Four runs off six hits were charged to him. He was relieved by Levi Lewis, who allowed five runs off three hits in 0.1 innings.
Savage Storm closer Cameron Mann, a former Tupelo High School standout, worked the final 5.1 frames and surrendered just one earned run off five hits with one walk and five strikeouts.
Hepworth’s run-scoring single lifted the Tigers to a 1-0 advantage in the first inning.
SOSU went up 2-1 in the second off Shankle’s two-run blast to left.
But the Tigers’ big third inning was triggered by Schmidt’s leadoff single. Hepworth’s double sent him to third. Then one out later, Gold hit a two-run single and ended up on second on the play via throw to make it 3-2 and chase away Taylor.
Lewis then hit Mac Grace with a pitch and Guardado followed with an RBI single for a 4-2 lead. Then with two outs, Mobley hit a two-run triple to right-center. After Greg Hamrock drew a walk, Schmidt came up to the plate for the second time in the frame and delivered a two-run single while Hepworth followed with a run-scoring single of his own to make it 9-2.
Nelson’s solo-homer to lead off the fourth and Chad Colbert’s run-scoring single sliced the deficit to 9-4 for the Savage Storm. Phillips’ homer trimmed the score to 9-5 in the seventh.
However, ECU responded with an all-important run in the bottom of the seventh as Guardado drew a one-out walk, moved up to second on a groundout and scored off Mobley’s single to left for a 10-5 Tiger cushion.
An RBI double by Justin Klusak and run-scoring groundout by Peter Bako sliced the Tiger lead to 10-7 and Grimmett’s two-out, two-run homer off Stuckey in the ninth made it too close for comfort, but Stuckey got SOSU’s Spencer Barnett to ground out and end the game.