Photo by Darius Horton / MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders were back in action on Saturday, as they took on the Charlotte 49ers in game two of a three-game weekend set. Though it looked bad early for Middle, starting pitcher Carson Lester buckled down after a rough first inning and gave the Blue Raider offense enough time to score in a 12-2 victory.
The beginning to Lester’s outing was less than ideal, as the first four batters for Charlotte reached base. By the time junior Blake Benefield recorded the first out for Middle, the 49ers held a 2-0 lead.
It didn’t help that the Blue Raider offense was dormant for the first two innings, even though they put the lead-off hitter on base in both innings.
The offense began its explosion in the third inning, as sophomore Aaron Antonini singled to start the two-run inning for MTSU. Senior Kevin Sullivan got the home team on the board with a sacrifice fly to center, while fellow senior Aaron Aucker tied the game with a line-drive single to left field to tie the game at two.
Benefield redeemed himself from a missed opportunity in Friday’s game by slamming a mammoth two-run home run in the fourth inning to give Middle a 4-2 lead. Sullivan added to the lead with a long two-run double to centerfield to give the Blue Raiders a 6-2 lead heading to the fifth.
Meanwhile, Lester gave Middle Tennessee five great innings following the debacle in the first. He held the 49ers off the board for the rest of his time on the mound, and ended his day with six innings of two-run ball and four strikeouts.
Middle added three more runs in the fifth, highlighted by LA Woodard’s third hit of the day, and it was all she wrote from there. When all was said and done, Middle Tennessee tied their series with Charlotte with a 12-2 win after Aucker closed the scoring with a three-run double in the eighth.
Benefield, Woodard lead offensive surge
After an eighth inning last night that saw offensive futility in the worst way, Benefield and Woodard helped fuel an attack that scored 12 runs on Saturday.
Benefield’s home run in the fourth gave Middle Tennessee a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, while Woodard used a more active mindset at the plate and on the base paths to cause havoc for the 49ers on defense.
“It was just me being more aggressive,” Woodard said. “Everything is just a mindset, and today we had a better mindset than we did yesterday as a team.”
The result for Benefield in the fourth was a polar opposite one compared to the eighth inning on Saturday when he popped out with the bases loaded and a 3-0 count.
For the Murfreesboro native, his sixth home run of the season was more than just a good at-bat; it was a way to somewhat forget Friday night’s game.
“It was good, although that one still hurts; I’m still kind of mad about that one,” Benefield said. “I needed to do that after last night.”
For the man in charge, he believes that could be the confidence-builder Benefield needed to get on a hot streak.
“It’s good to get his confidence back and going,” said Head Coach Jim McGuire. “He’s a big part of what we do offensively … that’s his sixth home run and he’s second on the team in RBIs. He’s got to continue to do that.
Lester rebounds from tough first to give Blue Raiders win
When the first inning began, things did not look good for the Middle Tennessee starter.
The 49ers opened the game by putting the first four hitters on base, and the first out was recorded on a sliding catch by Benefield in right field. It looked as if Lester might have a short appearance.
Then, he went into lockdown mode. Lester finished this outing by throwing five shutout innings and gave his team a chance to get going on offense. When all was said and done, he threw six innings of two-run ball with four strikeouts and only one walk.
“He really settled in after (the first inning); it did not start out well,” McGuire said. “That was a big lift for us … he settled down and I thought he was really good after that. He commanded both sides of the plate, and he started throwing his breaking ball better.”
It’s the second straight start for a Middle Tennessee pitcher that was looking to bounce back form a rough one before. Just like Jake Wyrick’s on Friday, Lester managed to find his groove on Saturday.
“That’s what you need,” McGuire said of Wyrick and Lester’s efforts. “We got six innings out of Wyrick last night, and then six out of Lester today. That’s what you have to have, especially on the weekend.”
The Blue Raiders will finish the series with Charlotte on Sunday at 1 p.m. with a chance to win the series. Freshman Peyton Wigginton is going for Middle Tennessee tomorrow, and he will be attempting to do what both Lester and Wyrick have both done this weekend: bounce back from rough starts.
“It’s a big start for (Wigginton),” McGuire said. “The series is on the line at 1-1, and we need to win this series at home.”
To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email email@example.com.