Harold Coggins: Corey Wood Bombs Away


He did it again.

The amazing Corey Wood his his 23rd home run for the fourth-seeded University of Arkansas at Monticello in the first round of the NCAA Division II Central Region Tournament Thursday afternoon but, unlike the Great American Conference championship game against Henderson State University last Saturday in Arkadelphia, Wood’s dinger was just icing on the cake in a 15-0 Boll Weevils’ rout of Missouri Western State University, the No. 5 seed, at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud, Minn.

In a season of firsts for now 37-14 UAM, the whitewash of the Griffons provided two more. The victory established a new school record for most single-season wins (breaking the 36 wins accumulated by the 2014 Weevils, who finished 36-17), and it marked UAM’s first-ever Central Region tournament victory in the team’s second appearance in the NCAA baseball playoffs (the club bowed out of the double-elimination regional after two games in 2014, when the tournament was played in Russellville). The 24th-ranked GAC Tournament champions now face eighth-seeded Minnesota State University at Mankato, which upset tournament host and No. 1 seed St. Cloud State University 1-0 in 11 innings. That winners’ bracket semifinal contest will be played at 5 p.m. Friday.

Full coverage will be available at www.UAMsports.com/coverage.aspx. The game can be heard on the UAM Sports Network at KHBM-FM 93.7 in Monticello and is also available on Cablevision Channel 17 in Monticello and Warren.

It will provide the Weevils a chance for some revenge as well. Very early in the season (Feb. 12-13, to be exact), the Mavericks—ranked No. 9 nationally at that time—swept a three-game series from UAM in Monticello, by one run, two runs and one run in extra innings.

In its wildest dreams, the lone Arkansas team in this season’s D2 Central Region tourney could not have expected a debut like this. All but one player in the starting lineup managed to get at least one hit, all nine reached base safely, all but one scored and UAM’s offense pounded out 18 hits—the 26th time in 51 games the Weevils have been at or over the 10-hit mark and the 11th time tey’ve scored at least 10 runs.

Meanwhile, senior starting pitcher Zach McKnight (9-2)—one of two Weevils to wear Kelly green and white for four years (the other is relief pitcher Gavin Johnston)—returned to form as UAM’s ace on the mound. McKnight fanned seven batters, walked only one, gave up just four hits and, most importantly, induced eight ground ball outs, which is McKnight’s strength when he is most effective.

“McKnight had one of the best outings he’s had in awhile,” UAM head coach John Harvey said. “He really located his fastball when he needed to and his slider was good as well. Offensively, we figured out in the first inning that the umpire had a big zone and we were going to need to hunt a pitch early in the count. I thought we did a good job of making that adjustment. We had several big hits and are really confident at the plate right now.

“One thing that gets lost in our focus on offense and pitching, is our defense. The defense has really been the story all year. (Senior third baseman Nick) Cerda made a diving play today that saved a run. It’s been plays like that all year that save runs, preserve pitch count and allow us to keep our momentum on offense.”

Redshirt sophomore center fielder Brian Ray, from Crossett, led the Weevils’ hit parade, going 5-for-5 with three runs batted in. Wood, a senior right fielder, and senior shortstop Evan Comeau were both 3-for-5. Junir designated hitter Guy Halbert and senior second baseman Nick Piraino were both 2-for-5. Halbert and Comeau each also had three RBI; Wood and Cerda had two RBI apiece.

After the teams fought through two scoreless innings, UAM broke the deadlock in the third and signaled things to come. Piraino led off with a double up the middle and scored the Weevils’ first run on a Comeau doubled. Comeau went to third on a wild pitch, where senior left left fielder Kevin Fitzpatrick’s single bropught him home.

Wood, the GAC’s Baseball Player of the Year, then singled, sending Fitzpatrick to third. Senior catcher Travis Steinke singled Fitzpatrick home; Wood stopped at second on the hit. Senior first baseman Mitchell Dornblut moved Wood to third with a fly out, where he scored on Ray’s base hit.

That 4-0 advantage would grow by leaps and bounds in the later innings as UAM scored five times in the fifth, three more  in the sixth, two in the seventh and added another run in the eighth on Halbert’s solo home run.

Halbert also had one of the big hits in the five-run fith, a two-RBI single. Comeau dupilicated that feat later in the inning. Cerda got the big hit in the sixth, a two-run double and Wood’s two-run homer accounted for the UAM scoring in the seventh.

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