Trojans’ season ends with loss in Sun Belt Tournament

Little Rock Sports
Tyler Morrison, Assistant Director of Communications

STATESBORO, Ga. – Little Rock baseball’s 2017 season came to an end as a late rally by Texas State gave the Bobcats a 3-2 win over the Trojans in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Thursday night at J.I. Clements Stadium.

The Trojans (21-34) went into the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead but the Bobcats (28-29) scored a run in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings to pick up the victory.

In his last start as a Trojan, senior right-hander Cory Malcom made program history as he set a new single-season record for strikeouts with 109. Malcom threw seven Ks and allowed two runs on seven hits in seven innings of work.

“Cory Malcom will go down as one of the best to ever play here,” head coach Chris Curry said. “He’s just a big-game pitcher, and he did it again tonight. He made big pitch after big pitch, and there’s no question in my mind that he should get a chance to pitch at the next level because he’s a winner and knows how to get hitters out. What he did is show every pitcher after him how it’s supposed to be done. For him to break the program’s single-season record for strikeouts is just a picture of his career. He’s stuck with us through the hard times, and if you need a win in a big game, you put Cory on the mound.”

Cameron Knight finished off his career at Little Rock with a perfect 3 for 3 night while tallying an RBI and a walk. Freshman Kale Emshoff went 2 for 3, and senior Nik Gifford scored both of Little Rock’s runs as he put up a hit and a walk.

Texas State took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first with three straight one-out singles. After singles by Jaylen Hubbard and Theodore Hoffman, Dylan Paul hit an RBI single down the right field line.

Little Rock tied it up at 1-1 in the top of the fourth. After Gifford singled and advanced from first to third on a wild pitch, Knight hit an RBI single to right.

The Trojans took the lead in the top sixth thanks to a wild pitch by Texas State. Gifford got on base with a leadoff walk before stealing second and advancing to third on a single by Knight. A wild pitch to the backstop allowed Gifford to score and put Little Rock up 2-1.

The Bobcats’ comeback bid began in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs, Ryan Newman singled up the middle before Zacri Sanders came on to pinch run. After a single by Felipe Rodriguez, Jacob Almendarez hit an RBI single into right to score Sanders and knot the game at 2-all.

Texas State got the go-ahead run it needed in the bottom of the eighth inning. With two on and two outs, Luke Sherley hit a ball to short, but the Trojans caught Hoffman in a rundown between third and home. Hoffman was originally ruled out at home, but after further review, the play was overturned and put the Bobcats up 3-2.

With one final chance in the top of the ninth, Hunter Owens reached on a throwing error before Dalton Thomas singled to short with two outs. With a 2-2 count, Texas State reliever Brayden Theriot (6-1) picked up the win on a game-ending strikeout. Little Rock reliever Justin Garcia (2-1) took the loss as he allowed one unearned run on two hits and a walk.

“We put ourselves in a position to win the game late, and that’s all you can ask,” Curry said. “We had the crazy play at the end, but it was just a bang-bang play. The guys were just trying to make an extra play. Nik Gifford is heartbroken because he was standing there at the end, but we’re not in this position without him. He goes from first to third on a wild pitch, gets a single to lead off the inning and walked to lead off the inning before, and it hurts because he’s the last guy. If it’s not for a guy like Nik, we’re not in that position.”

It was the last game for Little Rock’s 13 seniors, but they left a lasting impression on the program with back-to-back Sun Belt Conference Tournament appearances for the first time since the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

“It hurts right now, and one of the worst parts of the season is when the last out is made,” Curry said. “I cannot express my gratitude and appreciation for those seniors and what they did to make things happen. They did things for this program that had never been done before. They have set the bar, expectations and tone for us moving forward.”

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