Baseball: Rain, offensive struggles plague Blue Raiders in Mule Mix Classic


Peyton Wiggington winds up for one of his 99 pitches during the Blue Raiders 1-0 shutout of the Bradley Braves on Sunday. (Photo by Devin Grimes / MT Athletics)

Photo courtesy MT Athletics 

Story by Tim Carroll and Trevor Aldridge / Contributing Writers

The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders struggled on the diamond but also struggled to even get on the diamond due to inclement weather in the Mule Mix Classic this weekend. MTSU took the field against Nothern Illinois on Thursday, missed Friday and Saturday’s matchup and then took on Bradley in a doubleheader on Sunday.

The Blue Raiders dropped their opening matchup against the Huskies on Thursday and split their doubleheader with Bradley on Sunday.

Blue Raiders go to extra innings but drop decision in the 10th to NIU

The Raiders came into the first game fresh off a 2-1 weekend series win over Bowling Green.

In a low scoring affair, the Raiders fell to the Huskies 3-2 in the 10th inning.

Starting off on the mound for the Blue Raiders was right-hander Zach Keenan in his second start of the season. His first start was a success as he went seven innings and only gave up two hits with four strikeouts, earning him credit for the win.

Keenan had a solid outing, throwing five innings while giving up two runs, one earned, on six hits and three strikeouts. He was replaced in the top of the sixth by right-hander Scheldon Paulk.

“I thought Keenan had a really good game, thought he pitched like he did last week, just a couple bad breaks on some infield hits,” said head coach Jim Toman.

Paulk had a short but efficient stint on the mound, pitching 1.2 innings with no runs on three hits. He was replaced in the top of the seventh by right-hander Tyler Holcombe.

Holcombe put in a strong appearance, pitching 3.1 innings with one run on two hits and two strikeouts.

The game was held scoreless until the top of the third inning when NIU drew first blood off a sacrifice single.

MTSU was kept off the board until the bottom of the fifth when outfielder Darrell Freeman Jr. hit a single that allowed catcher Aaron Antonini to score, making it 2-1. The Raiders tied it up 2-2 the next inning when the Huskies’ pitcher balked, allowing shortstop Myles Christian to cross home plate.

The game remained tied until the top of the 10th when NIU took a 3-2 lead. The Blue Raiders were unable to muster a game tying run to extend the game into the 11th. In total Middle Tennessee tallied only five hits all game.

“They outhit us 11 to 5. We have to do better moving forward and stay focused. It also doesn’t help when we’re down three starters. Hopefully we’ll get those guys back soon,” Toman said on his team’s hitting struggles.

MT Baseball splits doubleheader with Bradley

With weather having forced Friday and Saturday’s games with Western Michigan and Toledo to be cancelled, the rain finally dissipated, and Middle Tennessee State played two matchups with the Bradley Braves on Sunday at Reese Smith Jr. Field in Murfreesboro to wrap up the Mule Mix Classic.

Sophomore left-hander Peyton Wigginton got the start on the mound for the Blue Raiders and had a career day, finishing with a complete-game shutout and tallying a final line of nine innings pitched, four hits, one walk and a staggering 12 strikeouts on an incredibly efficient 99 pitches while only having to face 31 batters.

Bradley’s starting pitcher, Mitch Janssen, was pulled after just four innings, allowing five hits and no runs while striking out six. Reliever Brooks Gosswein allowed the game’s only run in the bottom of the fifth when a sacrifice fly to left-center field by Drew Huff scored Darrell Freeman Jr., who tagged up from third base.

As for the Braves, they made an offensive push in the top of the eighth when catcher Keaton Rice and outfielder Jean-Francois Garon reached third and second, respectively, representing the tying and go-ahead runs.

Seemingly unfazed, Wigginton delivered a clever pitch, painting the lower left corner of the strike zone to freeze junior shortstop Luke Shadid for a called strike three, ending the half-inning and the scoring threat. Wigginton then retired the side in order in the 9th to secure his first pitching win of the season by a margin of 1-0.

The complete-game shutout by Wigginton was the first for the Blue Raiders since Jake Wyrick did it against Charlotte on April 17, 2016, and the 12 strikeouts marked the first time a MTSU pitcher reached double digit strikeouts in a game since Cody Puckett against Southern Miss on April 29, 2017.

Wigginton was not made available for interviews after the game, but coach Jim Toman spoke on his young starter’s stellar day, saying, “That’s what we’re expecting out of him this year. That’s exactly how we want him to pitch, throw strikes, and he’s capable of doing that every time out if his mind is right.”

In game two of the doubleheader, senior right-hander Carson Lester made the start on the bump for the Blue Raiders, while Sam Lund, a redshirt senior and also right-handed pitcher, started for Bradley. The Braves procured an early lead in the second inning when a sacrifice fly to right field by Garon allowed to tag up and score from third as catcher Aaron Antonini was unable to hang on to the ball on the tag at the plate.

The Raiders answered back in the bottom of the third when a soft liner into shallow right field hit by sophomore first baseman Brycen Thomas brought around sophomore Nick Carnevale to score from third and tie the game. Pitching dominance again set in from that point, as the game moved into extra innings with the score still tied at 1-1.

In the top of the 10th, an RBI triple to right field by Andy Shadid off of pitcher Tyler Holcombe scored his younger brother Luke to give the Braves a 2-1 advantage. The Blue Raiders posed a threat in the bottom of the inning, getting a leadoff single from senior Darien Prewett, followed by sophomore Myles Christian being walked intentionally, but a lineout to shortstop by Thomas brought the game to a close and secured the win for the Braves.

Senior Allan Beer was credited with the win for Bradley, while Holcombe suffered the loss for the Raiders. Lester was efficient despite receiving a no-decision, lasting six innings while allowing five hits, one earned run, one base on balls and striking out four on 84 pitches.

The Blue Raiders now sit at 3-3 for the young season and will continue their current home stand on Tuesday when they host Tennessee Tech, who made it all the way to the Super Regionals last season. First pitch is slated for 3 p.m. local time. They will then head out on the road for a one-game matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville on Wednesday before visiting Memphis for a three-game set over the weekend.

To contact Sports Editor David Chamberlain, email sports@mtsusidelines.com.

For more sports stories, follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter and Periscope at @Sidelines_Sport.

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