The ninth victory in a row by the University of Central Arkansas baseball team Friday night gives the Bears a chance to go for a two-peat Saturday afternoon.
After disposing of McNeese State for the second straight night — this time 8-6 — the Bears will play Southeastern Louisiana for the Southland Conference tournament title and NCAA berth at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bear Stadium. When the Bears (32-21) reached the SLC championship last year, they did it from the No. 7 seed. They surged to the title game from the 6 seed this year.
UCA has now won nine games in a row and eight SLC tournament gaves, dating back to last year.
Earlier Friday, Southeastern Louisiana turned back a stout effort by Northwestern State, rallying from a 3-2 deficit in the eighth, for a 7-3 victory. The Demons had advanced from the losers bracket by downing top seed Sam Houston State in an elimination game, 4-1. McNeese State eliminated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 8-5.
In the double-elimination bracket format, the two top teams in each bracket play in a winner-take-all game for the championship regardless of their bracket record.
Trailing 3-0 in the second, the Bears took command with five runs on two hits. They scored two runs on five hits in the fourth.
McNeese struggled with self-inflicted wounds, walking seven and hitting four batters. The Bears had 12 hits, McNeese 11.
Former Conway High players had big nights for the Bears.
Wesley Hoover drove in two runs with a two-out single, keying the UCA rally in the second.
Tyler Langley also drove in a run.
Connor McClain, the third UCA pitcher, allowed one run on three hits and struck out seven over four innings in recording his fourth save.
McNeese ran itself out of a bigger rally in the first inning when Matt Williams was caught stealing home. The five-run rally, seemingly ended by a diving catch by Stan Peterson, was prolonged by a balk that wiped out the catch that would have ended the inning.
Nate Farrell was 3 for 4 for the Bears, driving in two runs and scoring twice. Scott Ximmerle was 2 for 3 with two RBI, including a sacrifice fly t ht gave UCA a cushion in the sixth.
Josh Markel (3-0) was th winner in 3.2 innings of relief of starter chris Caudle. He allowed five hits and struck out one.