They may not have performed as well as they did during the regular season, but South Arkansas College’s bullpen registered some big outs at the Plains District Tournament.
Closer Trey Miller got the biggest of those outs, working a scoreless ninth inning in SouthArk’s 6-4 win over Western Oklahoma State that clinched a spot in the NJCAA Division II World Series.
The Stars face Frederick (Md.) Community College Saturday at 10 a.m. in the first game of the event.
A sophomore who has signed with Arkansas-Monticello, Miller’s appearance was his first since a three-inning stint on April 29 against Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa. He took over with a couple of runners on base in the eighth after starter Kade Lively departed.
The start was a rocky one.
“Trey came in and they got a big oppo(site-field) hit against him to score Kade’s runs,” SouthArk coach Cannon Lester said. “And then he walks a guy in, kind of uncharacteristic. He hadn’t been in there for two weeks.”
But after the tough start, Miller rallied to get out of the inning with SouthArk clinging to a 5-4 lead.
“Then he’s facing their two and three,” Lester said. “One of them had about six homers in the tournament and the other had about 17 already on the year, and he goes strikeout, strikeout.”
The Stars added a run in the bottom of the eighth, and Miller slammed the door in the ninth.
“We added a run, and then the four-hole hitter, who is All-Region and I think could hit in Double-A right now, he strikes him out on three pitches to begin the ninth, and I go, ‘Oh, there he is.’ He rode us from there on out,” Lester said.
Aaron Warriner, a sophomore who has signed with Arkansas Tech, picked up the win over Northern Oklahoma-Enid after Roc Hawthorne’s walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th.
Warriner matched his season high with four innings of work, allowing four hits and two runs. He struck out two.
Lester said Warriner’s outing was difficult due to the game being delayed by lightning.
“Aaron was the lifesaver out of that bunch,” Lester said. “It was a tough game. That was the game where we kept having lightning delays back and forth. They hit a little chopper and we make a little blunder when he comes in the game to give up two unearned runs, then all of a sudden, we go into a lightning delay.
“They’re down by one late, and he came up and pretty much said, ‘Do not take me out. Let me finish this game.’ That was the Aaron we’ve been looking for. He’s been getting better and better to the guy he was last year. We just looked at each other, and we were like, ‘Hey, we’ll let him go as long as we think he can go.’ That was a big moment to go four.
“It wasn’t just four, it was probably the stress of actually probably seven or eight innings there because a 30-minute delay turns into 15 minutes and then he has to go throw in the bullpen again to warm up twice. Then he goes four, so he was a lifesaver. He was a tough kid, he wanted it. That was good to see. We were going to let him ride it out until he couldn’t anymore. That was a big performance by Aaron.”
The Stars did have some struggles from their relief corps, but Lester has plenty of confidence in them.
“They didn’t throw as good as they probably have in the past,” Lester said.
“Jackson (Regan) struggled a little, but he’s been really good for us all year. Luke Eaton struggled in the tournament, but he got here as well. Jackson and Luke will be fine.”
As the World Series gets set to start, Lester knows the relievers will play a key role.
“Trey and Aaron were no doubt great,” Lester said. “We still had Ethan (Riche) waiting in the wings there to bring in if we needed to. Our starting pitching definitely matches up, and I think when our bullpen is going right, it can match up as well. We like those guys down there.”