Story by Will Carter / Sports Editor
After a disappointing start to the conference season with two deflating losses to the Old Dominion Monarchs (16-2, 2-1 C-USA), the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (8-12, 1-2 C-USA) bounced back yet again in the series finale to defeat the Monarchs 13-5, and hand them only their second loss of the season.
In a finish that Blue Raider fans are sure to be accustomed to, Middle Tennessee compiled 11 unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth inning to blow the game open with authority.
“I was working on my postgame speech after those first three innings, and it was gonna be pretty bad,” Blue Raider head coach Jim Toman said. “I had to change it because our guys never quit. If you’re not gonna be pretty, you better be scrappy and tough. That’s a heck of a team, so that’s a great win for us.”
The rally in the seventh inning started with a single from third baseman Brett Coker that was followed by a blast over the left-centerfield wall from first baseman Jacob Williams. The Monarchs’ lead was cut to one run, but the Blue Raiders showed no signs of mercy. Shortstop Fausto Lopez singled to push Eston Snider to third after he was walked. Mason Speirs was intentionally walked two batters later to load the bases, and Wyatt Morgan took a pitch to the body in the next at-bat which scored the tying run.
By that point, the Monarchs had changed pitchers twice already in the inning, but it wouldn’t be the last as they brought two more arms out of the bullpen before the inning ended.
Adding to the onslaught in the seventh, second baseman JT Mabry dropped a single over ODU’s shortstop to bring Lopez across the plate for the leading run.
The Blue Raiders were hungry for more when Jackson Galloway walked to the batter’s box with the bases loaded and two outs down.
“There was a lot of energy,” Galloway said of the team’s spirit in the seventh inning. “Everyone was enjoying being around each other, and we were picking one another up. I had to look for a pitch I could drive. He gave me a fast ball up and away, and I put a good swing on it.”
It was a good swing indeed. The roars from the Blue Raider dugout and bleachers inside Reese Smith Jr. Field were a clear indication that the ball hit by Galloway was long gone. The two-out grand slam extended Middle Tennessee’s lead to five runs, and they would never give it up.
Galloway finished 2-4 at the plate with five RBIs.
“When we get in a groove, everyone just starts to follow and pass the bat. That’s our team motto,” Galloway said. “It was good to get some hits to fall after those first two games.”
Toman agreed with Galloway’s sentiment.
“Everyone was just handing the bat to the next guy, so I’m proud of the offense for their effort today.”
The series finale got off to a slow start compared to the first two games of the weekend as both teams were hitless and scoreless until the fourth inning when ODU knocked back-to-back home runs to take a 4-0 lead. Until that point, starting pitcher Jaden Hamm was tossing a clean game with three strikeouts on 42 pitches. Hamm tightened up to finish the fourth inning by adding two more strikeouts to his total.
Veteran pitcher Trent Seibert took the mound for the Blue Raiders in the sixth inning after Hamm went 5.0 innings with four earned runs on six hits and six strikeouts.
While Seibert didn’t give up an earned run in his appearance, a costly throwing error from him on a pickoff attempt allowed the Monarchs to push one run across the plate in the top of the seventh.
“I was under the impression that if I did a spin move, I had to throw to second base,” Seibert said about the play. “Of course, I didn’t want to balk, so I threw it and it was bad. I can laugh about it now because we won, but it was definitely a mental error.”
After the half-inning was over, Mabry gave Seibert some words of encouragement.
“JT Mabry came over to me after that mental error in the seventh and told me, ‘We’re gonna pick you up right here.’”
Middle Tennessee answered the bell with three runs in the eighth inning to strengthen their lead heading to the last inning.
Seibert struckout four of the Monarch’s final seven batters, including two consecutive in the ninth inning to win it for the Blue Raiders. He was credited with the win after allowing only one hit and walking one batter in 4.0 innings, improving his record to 2-2 on the season.
“It was awesome to see the crowd getting into it too,” Seibert said of the final out. “Without Hamm’s effort, we probably wouldn’t have been there, so it was great to get that punch out. I was definitely more relaxed with that eight-run lead, and it felt great to get that win.”
The Blue Raiders have proven time and again that they are never out of a game, no matter how big or small the deficit is. Sunday’s contest with Old Dominion proved that to be true. It may not be pretty, but most of all coach Toman is proud of the fight his team continues to exhibit.
“We’re not so pretty at times, but we’re not gonna quit,” Toman said. “Some teams are just going to have more talent than you, so you better be tough and hang in there. I’m proud of these guys.”
After a week of home games, the Blue Raiders will be back on the road again this week starting with Austin Peay on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Clarksville. They will take a short break before heading to Birmingham, Ala. for a three-game C-USA series with the UAB Blazers starting on Friday.