UCA knocks off No. 10 Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. _ The University of Central Arkansas Bears knocked off the No. 10 Vanderbilt Commodores 5-4 on Tuesday at Hawkins Field for their first win over the two-time national champions in seven tries.

UCA (3-1) had a 5-1 lead after seven innings and then held off the Commodores, who won NCAA titles in 2014 and 2019. Bears’ pitchers Payton Windham, Coleman MacRae and Trent Gregson combined to hold the Commodores to just four hits on the night.

Shane Cossey

“Just very proud of the team,” said second-year UCA head Coach Nick Harlan, “because they played with such aggressiveness, fearlessness, freedom. And that’s just how I wanted them to approach this game. So just really proud of the way they played. Whether we had won or lost, I was very proud of how they approached it. 

“It was fun to watch them enjoy the moment and celebrate.”

The win was the first for the Bears over a Power 5 program since a victory over Oklahoma State in 2019 and the first over a Southeastern Conference team since they beat Mississippi State in the 2013 Starkville Regional. Vanderbilt pulled out a 5-2 win over the Bears last season at Hawkins Field.

Sophomore second baseman Tanner Leonard went 3 for 3 with 3 runs scored, while sophomore shortstop Reid Bowman knocked in three of the runs with a two-run single in the third inning and a sacrifice fly in the sixth. The Bears out-hit the Commodores 6-4.

Windham, a junior college transfer from National Park College, made his first appearance a memorable one. The left hander tossed 4 2/3 innings of one-hit baseball, allowing a single run. 

“We knew when Payton has his good stuff, he’s really hard to deal with,” said Harlan of the 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior from Maud, Texas. “And I just thought his approach was very confident, very poised on the mound. He looked totally in control. He was just aggressive in the strike zone.”

MacRae, a 6-2, 200-pound freshman from Rogers (Ark.) Heritage High School, worked the middle 1 2/3 innings, and allowed no runs and no hits. Junior Trent Gregson, who started in last Friday’s season opener against SEMO but served as the Bears’ closer a year ago, went the final 2 2/3 innings for the save. He allowed a three-run home run in the eighth but was solid to nail it down in the ninth. Gregson had thrown 89 pitches in the Friday start.

“When Coleman MacRae came in, from the first pitch, he was just going with really good intent,” said Harlan. “His fastball had a lot of life to it. I thought for his first outing, he handled it like a champ. 

“And we had told Trent that he was going to move to the bullpen this weekend (at Missouri State), and he immediately said that sounds good, but I’d like to be available for tomorrow. And we said, if you feel good, 100 percent. So he was prepared to pitch tonight. And he handled the magnitude of the moment well, like he’s done before.” 

The Bears put up two runs against Vandy starter Patrick Reilly in the third inning, all with two outs. Leonard had a base hit and stole second. Drew Sturgeon walked and both advanced on a wild pitch. Bowman then singled to left field for a 2-0 lead.  

Vanderbilt got one run back in the fifth, but UCA answered in the sixth. Leonard had a bunt single and stole second and third before Bowman’s sacrifice fly brought him in. The Bears added their final two runs in the seventh on two hits and an error.  Kolby Johnson led off with a walk and Dylan Cyr’s sacrifice bunt moved him to second.A.J. Mendolia singled up the middle and Kade Seldomridge’s fielder’s choice scored Johnson. Catcher Hayden Seldomridge hit one to the fence in left field that the Vandy outfielder misplayed to allow his brother to score and make it 5-1. 

“It’s an experience where they are going to gain a tremendous amount of confidence moving forward,” said Harlan. “And anytime you have that kind of experience, it just prepares you for the next challenge, so I’m excited for that.”

UCA travels to Springfield, Mo., this weekend for a three-game, non-conference series with the Missouri State Bears. Game times are 3 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Hammons Field.