Story by William Carter / Contributing Writer
After losing two in a row to Valparaiso University on Saturday, the Blue Raiders looked to right-hander Zach Keenan to bring home the series finale on Sunday. Keenan continued upon his stellar season pitching eight shutout innings with 11 strikeouts and only three hits.
For a pitcher that doesn’t throw many different pitches, opposing teams have a difficult time putting the ball into play when Keenan is on the mound.
“He has three good pitches for strikes, and the key is always throwing strikes,” said Head Coach Jim Toman. “He’s downhill, but it’s mainly his command. He knows where he’s throwing his pitches.”
In 23.2 innings, Keenan has a 0.38 ERA with opposing teams hitting an average of .140.
The Blue Raiders (9-5, C-USA 0-0) struggled at the plate for most of the series against Valparaiso (3-7, Missouri Valley 0-0) but Sunday was different with the team combining for a batting average of .310. They made a lot of improvement in a short amount of time having only two hits in their 44 previous at-bats in Saturday’s doubleheader.
“Our hitting coach, Coach (Blake) Hunt, sat down with our hitters about their approach and trying to get to the fastball,” Toman said, “it really was a matter of trying to get to the fastball, and I think we did a really good job at that.”
The bottom of the first inning for Middle Tennessee was electric. Fausto Lopez was walked to start the half inning followed by a beautiful bunt by Hunter Sullivan. Valparaiso made a pitching change after DJ Wright was walked to load the bases in the next at-bat.
Enter Nathan Sanders.
Sanders roped a ball to left field and with a little help from the wind the ball carried over the left fielder’s glove, dropping in the gap. Two runs scored on the play, and the Blue Raider dugout loved every bit of it. MTSU batted through the lineup in the inning giving them a 4-0 lead over the Crusaders.
The final run of the game was scored in the seventh when Sullivan stole third, and a throwing error brought him home.
Middle Tennessee will be on the road for the next nine games starting with a trip to Clarksville, TN to take on Austin Peay State University on Tuesday.