By Connor Grott
Assistant Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee (22-21, 11-9 C-USA) baseball team edged out Old Dominion (25-18, 12-11 C-USA) on Saturday night, picking up an 11-8 victory over the Monarchs, snapping ODU’s five-series C-USA win streak.
With the Blue Raiders’ win tonight and their 1-0 win over Old Dominion on Friday night, MT has already clinched the series victory, while jumping the Monarchs in the Conference-USA standings into sixth place with the season coming to a close.
The Blue Raiders will face off against Old Dominion on Sunday afternoon to cap off the three-game series, with the Blue Raiders looking for a sweep to keep up with the race in the tight C-USA standings.
Middle Tennessee may prove to be peaking at the right time following their back-to-back decisions over ODU. Previously, the Blue Raiders had not won a conference series since the March 28-30 series against Rice, in which the Blue Raiders edged out a 2-1 series win over the then-No. 10 Owls.
Old Dominion entered the weekend having won their last five C-USA series. The Monarchs stretch of C-USA series wins dates back to March 21-22 in a three-game swing against Louisiana Tech.
“We knew they had won five in a row and had been playing extremely well,” MT head coach Jim McGuire said. “It was big for us to scrap out a win today and after last night, to come out and score runs like we did, it was very important to feel that confidence going into tomorrow.”
The Blue Raider offense struck quickly in the matchup, with MT taking a quick 4-0 lead after a two-run first and second inning. Paul Mittura, who took the mound for the Blue Raiders, did not give up a run or hit until the fourth inning, with the Monarchs posting their first run of the game in the fourth.
MT would answer with a five-run fourth inning, taking a comfortable 9-1 lead into the top of the fifth. Old Dominion would respond by scoring the next seven runs in the game.
ODU would register a four-run outing in the fifth to cut the score to 9-5, ousting Mittura after 4.2 innings of work. Mittura finished the night allowing five hits, three earned runs, while recording two strikeouts in a no-decision.
Tollison (3-0) would come in to relieve Mittura, eventually garnering his third win of the season after pitching for 1.2 innings with two walks and three strikeouts. With Tollison’s performance, his ERA has fallen under one now, with the redshirt senior holding a 0.98 ERA on the season.
With Matt Blackham coming in to relieve Tollison in the top of the eighth, Blackham would allow three more runs to the Monarchs, cutting the Blue Raider lead to 9-8 heading into the bottom half of the eighth.
The Blue Raiders would add two runs in the eighth, increasing their lead to an 11-8 advantage headed into the ninth. In a save situation, Kooper Kessler would enter the game with runners on first and second and no outs. Kessler would produce a groundball double play and another grounder on the ensuing at-bat to pick up his first save of the season.
Old Dominion’s Ryan Yarbrough (5-5) picked up his fifth loss of the season. In 3.2 innings pitched, Yarbrough allowed 12 hits and nine runs, eight earned, and tallied a game-high seven strikeouts.
The top part of the lineup for the Blue Raiders proved to provide a critical spark in generating runs on Saturday night.
Trent Miller had a stellar performance, going 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBI’s. Dustin Delgado had a productive day as well, reaching base five times in five plate appearances after going 3-for-3 with two walks.
Third baseman Hank LaRue went 2-for-4 on the day with one RBI and one run scored. Ryan Stephens went 1-for-5, with his lone hit being a two-run bomb to left field in the fourth inning.
“The top part of our lineup tonight was very, very good,” McGuire said. “Their focus was there today, and we have got to have that. The top part of our lineup has to swing it because we can’t rely on the bottom part all of the time, and those guys did a tremendous job today.”
Middle Tennessee will finish up their three-game stretch against Old Dominion today at noon with a 2-0 series lead. Following the conclusion of that series, MT will travel to Knoxville to take on Tennessee April 29 at 5 p.m. CT.