Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (20-23) got off to a rocky start on Saturday against the No.25 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (33-12) and never recovered, falling just short in a comeback effort by a final score of 4-3.
Senior left-hander Cody Puckett got the start on the mound for the Blue Raiders and fell behind early on a two-run home run by opposing pitcher Taylor Braley. After Middle Tennessee cut the lead to 2-1 on an RBI single from outfielder Brad Jarreau, a throwing error by Puckett and a bobble ground ball by second baseman Ryan Kemp led to two more runs for the Golden Eagles, giving them a 4-1 lead in the third inning.
With the offense struggling, Puckett buckled down and gave the Blue Raiders a great, four-inning effort of shut-out ball and tying his career-high with ten strikeouts.
Kemp redeemed himself in the bottom of the seventh inning when he blasted a two-run home run to pull the Raiders within three. That’s the closest they would get however, as Southern Miss turned to their closer Nick Sandlin for the final two innings and he closed the Blue Raiders out, giving the Eagles the win by a final score of 4-3.
Puckett solid after rough start
Following the first three innings that saw him give up four runs (three earned), Puckett gave the Blue Raiders every chance to win by throwing four shutout innings and giving up only one hit over those four frames. For the night, Puckett threw seven innings of four-run ball on six hits while striking out a career-high tying ten batters. Even more impressive, the senior lefty only walked a single batter.
While his team struggled with runners in scoring position, Puckett’s outing bought them time and gave them the opportunity to mount a comeback that fell just short. Even with the disappointing outcome, his start did not go unnoticed by the man in charge.
“I thought he was really good…he competed, it’s the most pitches he’s thrown,” Head coach Jim McGuire said. “He competed great and really battled through some adversity. I thought he was as good as he has been all year.”
Kemp makes up for early error with big hit
Coming into the game with an average well over .300, Kemp continued his impressive season with a 2-for-4 performance that included the biggest hit of the day for the Blue Raiders. With his team trailing 4-1 and in need of a spark, Kemp blasted a two-run home run over the left-center field wall to pull within a single run. The second baseman also walked in the ninth to get the tying run on base, but designated hitter Aaron Aucker popped up to end the game.
Even with the big home run to get the team back in the game, Kemp held himself completely responsible for the loss because of his error in the third inning.
“All I can think about is the third inning…I made a good play to get the ball, but I didn’t finish the play,” Kemp said. “The third inning is where we lost the game…if I didn’t make that error, we are out of the inning.”
Errors come back to haunt Middle Tennessee
The Blue Raiders out-hit the Golden Eagles today by a count of 11-7, but what really hurt them was the three errors they committed. On a pickoff attempt at first base, Puckett threw the ball too far up the line where first baseman Kaleb King couldn’t reach it and the runner advanced to third. Kemp followed with a great play to scoop a tough ground ball, but couldn’t get it out of his glove and failed to get the runner out.
Catcher Aaron Antonini made the final error by throwing the ball into centerfield on a stolen base attempt. Even with the lopsided hitting numbers, McGuire knows that an improvement in focus is all the team needs to clean up these mistakes.
“We’ve just got to play smarter baseball…you’ve got to minimize your mistakes and play a lot more conservative than that,” McGuire said. “We just tried to get too aggressive and did too many things instead of just playing the game…it’s pretty tough.”
Final MTSU stats
Final box score from MTSU baseball vs Southern Miss pic.twitter.com/8AD7hu7ttw
— Cody Strickler (@CodyStricklerSL) April 30, 2017
The Blue Raiders conclude their series with Southern Mississippi tomorrow, with first pitch set for 1 p.m.