Photo by Darius Horton / MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders’ (17-15, 5-7) Sunday matinee against the Marshall Thundering Herd (14-13, 4-8) summed up to be a disappointing weekend sweep, as MTSU dropped the series finale by a score of 9-4.
After scoring 17 runs in the first two games of the weekend series, the Marshall bats picked up right where they left off in the first inning on Sunday. With junior right-hander A.J. Spencer on the mound, the Thundering Herd posted three runs on the scoreboard after Reynaldo Pastrana lined a single into left field to score Andrew Zban. Peter Hutzel’s base knock into left brought home Shane Hanon, and a throwing error on Blue Raider right-fielder Blake Benefield allowed Pastrana to cross home plate for the Herd’s third run of the inning.
After the rocky start on the mound, Spencer settled down and retired nine out of the next 10 Marshall hitters, with four of those outs coming via strikeout.
Marshall starting pitcher Zac McNeel kept the Blue Raider lineup in check and off the board until Benefield brought home Aaron Aucker from second base by virtue of an RBI single in the bottom of the third inning.
In the top of the sixth inning, the Thundering Herd created some separation. With runners on second and third, Blue Raider freshman pitcher Peyton Wigginton threw a wild pitch that resulted in Marshall first baseman Will Ray scoring to increase the lead to 4-1.
The Herd weren’t done posting up runs on the scoreboard in the sixth inning, however. Entering the game as a pinch hitter with one runner on, Marshall’s Kody Matthews slapped a home run off of the left field foul pole to push the lead to 6-1.
The rough afternoon continued for Wigginton, as his throwing error in the top of the seventh inning brought Hanon across the plate. Pastrana’s fly ball double later in the inning scored Ray, giving Marshall an 8-1 lead going into the seventh-inning stretch.
MT tried to claw their way back into contention after LA Woodard‘s line drive ricocheted off McNeel’s glove, allowing Darrell Freeman Jr. to score the Blue Raiders’ second run of the game. An Austin Dennis RBI single brought Kevin Sullivan home to cut the deficit to five runs.
The Blue Raider rally attempt took a sharp turn in the top of the eighth inning when Matthews hit his second home run of the game, a solo shot over the left field fence, to increase Marshall’s advantage.
Down to their final three outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Blue Raiders mustered only one run and were unable to conjure up any late game magic as Myles Christian struck out looking to end the game by a final score of 9-4.
Shaky pitching puts MT in a hole they couldn’t recover from
Marshall jumped all over MT’s starting pitching early, as Spencer gave up three runs to the Herd in the first inning.
Despite retiring nine of the next 10 batters he faced, the early three run deficit proved to be insurmountable throughout the course of the afternoon.
“He struggled in the first and just kept the ball up for whatever reason,” said Head Coach Jim McGuire. “He located better after the first inning … he settled in and threw pretty well for his first conference weekend start.”
Spencer went on to provide five innings for MT, allowing six hits and giving up four earned runs while striking out four batters and walking only one.
The bullpen didn’t help out the Blue Raider cause once Spencer left the game. Wigginton gave up three earned runs, threw a wild pitch which resulted in a run and committed a throwing error which also resulted in a Marshall score in only two innings of action on the mound.
Both he and sophomore pitcher Grant Williams gave up crucial home runs to Matthews which further increased the MT deficit.
Marshall breaks out the brooms at Reese Smith Jr. field
The Blue Raiders’ defeat on Sunday was their third straight against Marshall, who entered this weekend in last place in C-USA play.
“It’s very disappointing,” McGuire said. “It’s very disappointing how we played throughout all three games … things were rolling along pretty good for us, and then you hit something like this and it’s going to be about how you respond to it and what do you do after this.”
While the weekend sweep at home stings for McGuire and the rest of the Blue Raiders, he believes that his team is just experiencing one of the lows of the lengthy college baseball season.
“You have peaks and valleys during the season and this is definitely a downward spiral that we are on in these last three games. but it’s the first time we’ve had this,” McGuire said. “We have to find a way to fire ourselves back out of this.”
The Blue Raiders will remain home on Tuesday night to square off against the Belmont Bruins at 6 p.m.
The last time these two teams met up, MT boat-raced the Bruins in Nashville by a score of 24-4 on Mar. 27. Given the nature of the blowout, McGuire knows the Bruins will be hungry to avenge that loss.
“We’ve got to get a win … we played well on the road against them, but we got to do it again here because they’re going to be looking for revenge.”
To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email firstname.lastname@example.org.