Story by William Carter / Contributing Writer
A moment most kids dream of came to life for infielder Hunter Sullivan in game one of the doubleheader against Rice Friday. Bottom of the ninth inning with runners on first and second, Sullivan stepped to the plate with two outs. He bunted the ball to the pitcher who tripped on his throw. Brycen Thomas scored the winning run from third giving Sullivan a walk-off bunt and a 4-3 Blue Raider win.
Middle Tennessee (15-11, 4-2) would go on to lose the second game 4-1 to split the doubleheader with Rice (13-14, 2-5).
The Blue Raiders started off with a bang in the first game with JT Mabry launching a two-run homer in the second inning. Southpaw Peyton Wiggington kept the Owls at bay until the fifth inning, giving up one run. Wiggington was replaced by Austin Cheeley after 4.1 innings and four strikeouts.
The game was set for seven innings, but it was tied at 3-3 until Hunter Sullivan’s shining moment in the ninth.
As if it were deja vu, JT Mabry hit a solo home run in the second inning for the Blue Raiders in game two. Mabry accounted for three of MT’s four hits in the loss. On the day, Mabry went (4-7) at the plate with four RBIs and two home runs.
“We need someone to step up offensively. He was the guy today, and hopefully he’ll be the guy tomorrow,” Coach Jim Toman said. “We got a really important game tomorrow, so hopefully he’s getting hot and four or five other guys will get hot as well.”
Right-hander Zach Keenan held Rice scoreless for four innings until the Owls scraped six hits together to score four in the fifth inning. Keenan gave up four runs on seven hits in 4.1 innings.
The Blue Raiders were unlucky in their search for hits in today’s games aside from Mabry’s performance. The team combined for a batting average of .173 across both games with a total of 22 strikeouts.
“I think we need a better two-strike approach, and we need to battle a little bit more,” Toman said. “These 7-inning games you play in Conference USA go awful quick. We didn’t get quite enough hits today.”
Middle Tennessee has the opportunity to win 3-of-4 games in their C-USA series with Rice. Currently, the Blue Raiders are tied for first with LA Tech in the West Division. A win Saturday would give them the outright lead.
“They (Rice) have been in the College World Series a bunch of times. We have a chance tomorrow to make a statement,” said Toman. “If we lay down, we split the series. I would prefer to win the series.”
MTSU will hit the road for a three-game series against UTSA in San Antonio starting on Friday at 6 p.m. The game will be available to watch on C-USA TV.