HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Senior Jeff Schalk blasted a two-run home run to right-center field in Game 8 of the Conference USA Baseball Championship, to lift UAB to a walk-off 2-1 win versus No. 19 Florida Atlantic on Friday at Pete Taylor Park.
"Wow, what do you say," head coach Brian Shoop said following the thrilling win. "In a game that was almost totally dominated by pitching, nobody even really threatened. We got a guy to second. [Drew] Jackson overmatched us. We were just hoping that Alex [Luna] would be able to match him."
Luna did just that, pitching his best game of the season and one of the best of his career, providing the Blazers with seven quality innings to counter Jackson's performance. Luna allowed just three hits, no runs, walked two and struck out seven in the most he's thrown since coming back from mono in March.
"That was by far his best outing since [coming back from] mono," Shoop said. "I was really concerned after one [inning] because of 20 pitches, but he battled back in the pitch count. That was Alex Luna from early in the year. We kept asking Alex, 'Can you match him?' We kept telling our hitters that before the game is over [Jackson] is going to make a mistake. I felt like we only threw one bad pitch and they homered. Jackson throws one pitch in the middle and we just happened to have a guy on ahead of him."
Jackson struck out 12, the second-most in a C-USA tournament game, and didn't allow a base hit from the third to ninth inning, but it was Griffin Gum's single to left that broke the streak to setup Schalk's game winner over the right-center field wall.
It's not the first big hit in a C-USA championship game of Schalk's career, as he knocked a two-run home run in the 2012 Conference USA title game against Memphis, helping the Blazers claim the tournament title three years ago.
UAB got single hits in the first three innings, one from Gum, one from Adam Lau off a bunt, and another in the third from Chase Davis. Florida Atlantic got a leadoff single in the first, tallied another in the second, and was held hitless until the seventh when Luna worked out of a jam to strand two Owls.
That's when lefty Dylan Munger took over on the mound, looking to back up Luna's performance. After the Owls attempted a bunt single to lead off the eighth, Munger left one over the plate, a ball CJ Chatham lifted to left field to give the Owls a 1-0 advantage. Munger then came back for a groundout for the second out of the frame, before FAU loaded the bases off a single, walk and hit by pitch. But Munger prevailed and induced a groundout to second, stranding three Owls in what turned out to be a key moment in the game.
Schalk's walk-off bomb is the first in five years in a C-USA championship game, as Memphis also walked off in 2010 in the tournament.
Through two games in the 2015 C-USA championship, pitching has been the highlight for the Blazers, as the staff has allowed just one run, seven hits and struck out 18 in 18 innings. Starters James Naile (Thursday's winner in the 4-0 victory against Southern Miss) and Luna have combined for 13.2 IP with just five hits allowed and 14 strikeouts in the two games.
UAB advances to Saturday needing just one win to move on to the C-USA title game.