By David Salley
HSU Sports Information
HOT SPRINGS — Henderson State used a terrific outing from sixth-year senior Austin Cross and a gutsy performance down the stretch from Cade Tucker to hold off No. 5 seed Ouachita Baptist 7-5 and advance to the 2022 Great American Conference Tournament Championship game.
The No. 2 seed Reddies (38-14) will take on No. 1 seed Southern Arkansas tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. in the conference title game. HSU will be making its fifth appearance in the GAC Championship final since 2015 and is seeking back-to-back GAC tournament championships after winning the crown last season.
Cross, who came to Henderson as a freshman in 2017, delivered his best performance of the year at a critical time. The lefty from Ashdown, Arkansas pitched six innings and surrendered just one run on three hits. Cross struck out five batters and threw 85 pitches to earn his third win of the season.
Tucker, who has been used primarily as a starter this spring, was called upon to close it out for the Reddies in a pressure-packed final two innings and came through in a big way. The two-way standout did not allow a hit and got two strikeouts to pick up his first save of the year and help HSU stave off a Tiger rally.
Dillon Thomas was perfect at the plate for the Reddies and finished 4-for-4 with three runs, an RBI and a walk. Tucker recorded two hits and had three RBIs, while Bryson Haskins added a single and a double.
Henderson got in front from the get-go on Monday night and struck for two runs in the first inning to take a 2-0 lead. A four-hit third inning led to three more runs for HSU, who then extended the lead out to 6-0 on a Ouachita error in the fifth.
After the two teams traded runs in the sixth, OBU began to threaten as the Reddies got into their bullpen. The Tigers scratched a run on an error in the seventh to make it 7-2, but left the bases loaded after a nifty play by Ethan Perry helped Henderson escape a jam.
Things began to tighten up in the eighth inning as HSU struggled to find the strike zone. The Reddies issued five free passes in the top half of the inning, which led to three Tiger runs and trimmed the lead down to 7-5. Ouachita had a chance to tie or take the lead with two outs in the frame but again left the bases juiced when Nick Butler tracked down a hard hit ball in right field.
A throwing error to begin the ninth brought about more anxious moments for Henderson, as OBU was able to bring the tying and go-ahead runs to the plate with just three outs to work with. Despite the mishap, Tucker calmly recorded a ground out, line out and fly out to slam the door on the Tigers and secure the Reddies a date with Southern Arkansas on Tuesday.
The Reddies issued a season-high 11 walks to Ouachita in the win, but escaped multiple high-leverage situations and stranded 14 Tiger baserunners. HSU recorded 11 hits and had five go for extra bases. With the victory, Henderson improved to 53-4 in the last two seasons when leading after six innings of play. —