CORPUS CHRISTI – With the third seed in the 2014 Southland Conference Tournament, the Texas A&M – Corpus Christi baseball team will take on tournament host and sixth seed Central Arkansas to open its quest for its first tourney title. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bear Stadium.
The Islanders (30-25, 19-11 SLC) earned the No. 3 spot in the tournament on the final day of the regular season, as Southeastern Louisiana scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to knock off Northwestern State, causing a tie for third between the Islanders and the Demons. The sweep earlier in the season for A&M – Corpus Christi over Northwestern put the Islanders seeded ahead of the Demons.
Tournament host UCA (29-21, 17-13) had to play its way in during the final series of the season, as the Bears swept New Orleans to earn the No. 6 seed. Nicholls, the second seed, as well as No. 7 McNeese State, who play each other at 4 p.m., are also in the pod with the Islanders in the double-elimination tournament. The winner from the two games will play at 7 p.m. Thursday, while the two losing teams will look to stave off elimination in a noon meeting in day two of the tourney.
The Islanders took the regular season series against UCA, winning the first and the third games in the opening weekend of Southland play. This will also mark the second consecutive season the Islanders and Bears have met in the opening game of the Southland Tournament, with A&M – Corpus Christi knocking off UCA 5-3 a year ago.
Offensively, both the Islanders and the Bears are led by an All-Southland First Team selection, with third baseman Brandon Tierney for A&M – Corpus Christi and outfielder Doug Votolato for the UCA. In his second season with the Islanders, Tierney saw a considerable uptick at the plate, leading the team with his .335 batting average as well as his .453 slugging percentage and 68 knocks. He was also two behind the team lead in runs driven in at 30, with Cody Stephens, Tyler Ware and Kyle Danford all tied at 32 RBIs.
For UCA, senior Votolato finished with the second-highest batting average in the league, hitting at a .377 clip, to go along with 22 swiped bags, which was the most in the Southland. However, he is the only Bear who hit above .300 during the regular season, with Chris Townsend leading the team in RBIs with 38, while hitting .280 on the year.
Russell Vaughan had a strong regular season against Southland competitors, as during league contests the senior catcher finished first in on-base percentage (.488), fifth in slugging (.535) and eighth in batting average (.374). He also tallied 21 of his 25 RBIs on the season during conference play.
Vaughan was also solid behind the plate, especially during games with Matt Danton on the mound. Danton (7-3, 3.69 ERA) took over as the Friday night starter for the Islanders and provided plenty of rest of the A&M – Corpus Christi bullpen, throwing 95 innings on the year — the third most in the league, just two-thirds behind conference leader Tyler Eppler of Sam Houston State.
The Conroe, Texas, native settled in as the Friday night starter for the team, and was able to tally quality starts in 11 of his 14 appearances, going at least seven innings in nine of his outings. The team posted an 8-2 record in his starts during conference play.
Leading the Bears pitching staff throughout the regular season was senior Bryce Biggerstaff who also provided some downtime for his bullpen, throwing four complete games on the year, including two 10-inning outings. Biggerstaff accumulated a 2.89 ERA during the year — the 10th lowest in the league — to go along with 54 strikeouts and a 6-5 record.
There will be free online video broadcasts of all games throughout the tournament on the Southland Digital Network, which includes Southland.org and the league's free mobile and tablet apps. The championship game will be carried live on ESPN3.
An all-tournament pass, which allows entry into all 15 possible games of the tournament, is $35 for adults and $25 for children ages 3-12. An adult single-day pass, which will include four games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with a possibility of three games on Saturday, is $14 each day, while a single-day pass for children is $10. If Saturday features only one game, then tickets for the championship will be $9 for adults and $7 for children. Students at Southland Conference institutions will also gain free admission with a valid student ID. Tickets are available for purchase in person at the Central Arkansas ticket office, by phone at 501-852-2234, and online at the university's athletics website at www.ucasports.com/tickets.
Fans can also follow along with the Islanders throughout the tournament on social media on Twitter and Instagram (@IslandersBSB) as well as Facebook (IslandersBaseball).