NASHVILLE – MTSU opened up the midweek schedule looking to continue its hot streak.
The Blue Raiders came into Tuesday’s contest with No. 13 Vanderbilt having won six games in a row, including a sweep at Charlotte the previous weekend.
Then Vanderbilt lefty Ryan Johnson happened.
Johnson threw eight innings in giving up five hits with no runs to lead the Commodores to a 4-0 win over the Blue Raiders (23-17, 14-4 C-USA) at Hawkins Field Tuesday night.
“He commanded the strike zone all night,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said after the win. “He set the pace. When you pitch like that, you just put it in the defense’s hands and let the hitters put the ball in play.”
MTSU earned its first midweek win of the season at Reese Smith Jr. Field on April 14, taking down in-state rival Tennessee, 7-5.
Entering Tuesday’s game against the Commodores, MTSU held a 1-1 season record against SEC opponents, losing to the same Vanderbilt team in Murfreesboro back on March 24.
The Blue Raiders led by as many as five runs in that game, ultimately succumbing to the defending champions, 12-7.
Both offenses struggled early on, with neither pitcher wanting to give up the first run. Garrett Ring (1-2) earned the start for the Blue Raiders, struggling to find the strike zone early in the game.
The Commodores (30-12, 12-6 SEC) found a chink in the armor in the bottom of the third, as Rhett Wiseman scored from second on a double by Murfreesboro native Zander Wiel.
Offensively, MTSU continued to struggle against Johnson, having just two hits through four innings. Johnson gave up a lead off single to Brad Jarreau, then retired the next ten batters.
Johnson, a freshman for Vanderbilt, came into the game with a 3-0 record on the year in 10 appearances, with a 2.41 ERA.
Vanderbilt generated more offense in the bottom of the fourth, extending their lead to 2-0 as Blue Raider outfielder Jared Allen lost track of the ball. Will Toffey scored on the drop, and the Commodores led by two heading to the fifth.
MTSU’s Blake Stansberry replaced Ring in the fifth inning for Middle Tennessee, looking to continue his solid string of appearances.
Stansberry pitched just one-third of an inning against the Commodores back on March 24. He walked two batters, hit another and finished with three earned runs.
Since facing the Commodores in that last matchup, Stansberry has found a rhythm.
The freshman righthander has posted a 3-0 record and one save since his last outing against Vanderbilt.
Stansberry and Heath Slatton gave the Blue Raiders a chance to come back in the late stages, with the pair of relievers giving up just one hit combined Tuesday night.
In the end, though, Johnson out-dueled any pitcher that touched the mound for the Blue Raiders.
“Just competing and pounding the zone,” Johnson said of his stellar performance after the game. “The defense did a great job, all the guys. Jason (Delay) behind the plate did an amazing job.”
Vanderbilt added two more runs in the bottom of the eighth when lead off man Ro Coleman doubled down the left field line, putting the Commodores up, 4-0.
Coleman finished the game 3-for-4, sparking the Vanderbilt offense from the lead off spot.
“We come out here with the same attitude everyday,” Coleman remarked about mid-state opponents. “We see each opponent as the same. We come out here and try to compete the same way.”
The Blue Raiders could not produce in the ninth, going down in order to lose 4-0 against Vanderbilt.
The Blue Raiders’ midweek struggles continue to mount, falling to just 1-9 in midweek games this season.
“Johnson pitched really, really well for them,” MTSU coach Jim McGuire said of the loss. “I thought our guys did well on the mound, we just could not get anything going offensively, and that’s what ended up getting us.”
Middle Tennessee has a couple days off before heading to Huntington, West Virginia to take on Marshall in a three-game series over the weekend. First pitch Friday afternoon is scheduled for noon.
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