Photo by Delaney Dickey / MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (13-11, 3-3) faced the Charlotte 49ers (14-9, 4-2) on Sunday in the rubber match of their three-game weekend series. After falling in game one 4-0 and winning game two 12-2, the Blue Raiders were hoping they still had some offense in the tank to win the series.
There wasn’t much early however, as they went the first five innings of the game without a hit in a 7-5 loss to the 49ers.
Freshman Peyton Wigginton got the start on the bump for Middle, and he was hoping to Jake Wyrick and Carson Lester‘s performances this weekend. He was unsuccessful however, as he only lasted 4.2 innings and gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
The young lefty kept Charlotte off the board for the first two innings, but a two-run double from Jackson Mims gave the 49ers a 2-0 lead in the third. Tommy Bullock added an RBI double in the fourth before the road team used a pair of mistakes by Middle to run the lead to 5-0.
After Wigginton threw a wild pitch to score one run, freshman catcher Jake Hagenow threw the ball away at the plate to allow another runner to score. Wigginton’s day was done soon after.
The sixth inning was where the futility ended for MT, as freshman Myles Christian broke up the no-hitter with a double into the left-centerfield gap. He came around to score when junior LA Woodard grounded out to shortstop, thus getting MTSU on the board.
The Blue Raiders did manage some offense in the eighth inning, as they scored four times to cut the deficit down to 7-5 heading to the ninth.
After senior Kevin Sullivan reached on a single in the bottom of the ninth, junior Austin Dennis had a chance to potentially send the game to extras, but he popped the first pitch he saw up for the final out of a 7-5 defeat.
Defensive mistakes cost Blue Raiders dearly
Wigginton’s struggles extended beyond just pitching, as he committed two errors that were nearly identical in back-to-back innings.
While the first one didn’t come back to harm the team, his second one was very costly. Wigginton slipped and missed a ball that was hit off the end of the bat, allowing the runner to reach first base. The 49ers scored two batters later to extend the lead to 3-0.
Wigginton and Hagenow combined to allow two more runs when Wigginton threw a pitch in the dirt that got away from his catcher.
The problems didn’t end there however, as Hagenow’s throw got away from Wigginton at the plate. This allowed the fifth run to cross the plate, and put the Blue Raiders in a hole they couldn’t get out of.
“That can’t happen on the mound,” said Head Coach Jim McGuire of Wigginton’s errors. “We just didn’t execute … then, we had another mistake at the plate trying to get the runner and there wasn’t a play. Those three errors were critical, especially in the early going.”
Middle Tennessee makes late offensive push, fall just short
Though they struggled for a majority of the game against 49er starter Joey Cooner, the Blue Raiders made the game interesting with a four-run rally in the eighth inning.
Woodard reached on a fielder’s choice and promptly stole second. After a walk to Sullivan, Middle got four straight run-scoring singles from Dennis, Aaron Aucker, Blake Benefield and Drew Huff to cut the lead down to 7-5.
After Darien Prewett walked to load the bases, Hagenow found himself with an opportunity to possibly tie the game. Instead, he grounded out to second and ended the rally there. Those were the last runs Middle scored and although it made the game closer, it still left a bad taste in the mouths of the players.
“This loss kind of hurts because it was a big game for us,” Huff said. “We could’ve gone 4-2 (this week), but obviously it’s in the past now.”
The Blue Raiders have struggled all season against left-handed pitching, and it showed in Sunday’s game against Cooner. For Huff, it’s all about the mindset the team has with regards to their approach to southpaws.
“The biggest problem for us has been our approach; we’ve wanted to pull the ball,” Huff said. “We haven’t really gotten in that mindset of hitting that right-center gap, and lefties have figured that out on us. It’s an adjustment we’ll make in practice and we will be good going into the next game.”
The Blue Raiders will be back in action on the road in Nashville on Tuesday against Belmont at 4 p.m. With a major series against Old Dominion looming next weekend, this is a big game for a team that is looking to get back on a hot streak.
“We’ve got to build on some of the positives, and we’ve got to improve on some of the negatives,” McGuire said. “That’s the goal this week. We’ll have practice (Monday) and then go to Belmont.”
To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email email@example.com.