Photo by Darius Horton / MTSU Sidelines
Following uncooperative weather on Saturday, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (3-0) were forced to play a doubleheader on Sunday against the Western Illinois University Leathernecks. Middle Tennessee dominated both games, winning by scores of 11-7 and 9-3.
MTSU builds big lead, holds on thanks to Woodard’s big day
The Blue Raiders got the scoring started early as shortstop LA Woodard hit a triple to lead off the bottom of the first. He wouldn’t be there for long, as he scored on Ryan Kemp’s sacrifice fly a few moments later.
“Being the leadoff hitter, I like to set the tone,” Woodard said. “Hitting that leadoff triple and seeing the guys excited and just setting the tone for the day, it’s a really good feeling.”
The Leathernecks tied the game after their batter hit a double off of starting pitcher Andy Rivera with two men on base. This tied the score at 1-1, but they would not score again that inning.
Designated hitter Aaron Aucker, left fielder Myles Christian and right fielder Blake Benefield were all walked in succession to start the next inning. Catcher Jake Hagenow followed with a single, allowing the Raiders to take a 2-1. Then, Woodard hit a single to drive in two more runs, giving MTSU a 4-1 lead.
Aucker provided the Raiders with their next two runs, as he blasted a two-run home run to left field for a 6-1 lead in the bottom of the third.
Woodard continued his perfect day by hitting a single and scoring yet again after stealing a base and scoring on Austin Dennis‘, upping the score to 7-1. By the time the inning was over, Middle held their biggest lead of the day at 8-1.
Western Illinois used single runs in the fifth and sixth innings to begin their comeback, as well as a three-run seventh to cut the lead down to 8-6, but it wouldn’t be enough.
The Blue Raiders scored three more times and won the game by a final score of 11-7. Tyler Holcombe recorded his first win of the season, and the team was riding momentum heading toward the second game.
Wigginton dominates in first collegiate start
The Blue Raiders didn’t have long to celebrate their win, however, because they were back in action to finish out the series.
Freshman Peyton Wigginton got the start for MTSU, and he didn’t disappoint. Though he walked two batters in the first, he came back to retire the Leathernecks without allowing a run.
Designated hitter Manuel Lopez came close to a home run in the second, but he had to settle for a triple as the ball stayed in play. He scored just a few moments later to tie the game on a passed ball.
After WIU tied the game, it was Woodard got the scoring started for MTSU once again. He singled to start the third and moved to third base on Dennis’ double. A sacrifice fly and single later, the Blue Raiders found themselves in position of a 3-1 lead.
Neither team cracked the scoring column again until the midway point of the game. Christian singled with two outs in the bottom of the fifth and immediately scored when Lopez crushed a home run to right field for a 5-1 Blue Raider lead.
Wigginton continued his brilliance as he retired 10 consecutive batters until he gave up a double in the top of the sixth. He finished the inning and was pulled after that, leaving him with an impressive six innings of one-run ball for his first collegiate start.
The Blue Raiders went on to score three runs in the sixth and one in the seventh as they closed out their first season-opening sweep since 2009 with a 9-3 victory.
Though it is early in the season, this team looks to be loaded with talent at all positions and should be poised to make a big leap in productivity and wins. They had contributions from several players across all major position groups.
“We’ve got some dynamic players that have skillsets that some of our guys in the past didn’t quite have,” said head coach Jim McGuire. “We don’t have to rely as much on power as we did last year.”
This was a game that Wiggington had been thinking about for a while, and he was happy it went as well as it did.
“I’ve been waiting since the fall to come out here and get my start,” Wigginton said. “(I want to) do the best that I can do. It feels pretty good to get it out of the way and get the rest of the season going.”
The Blue Raiders will play next on Tuesday at 6 p.m. when they travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to take on the Crimson Tide.
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