The Blue Raiders looked to avoid a series sweep against FIU at home Sunday afternoon as the team looks to stay alive in a bid for a spot in the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
Middle Tennessee started off the game with a good performance on offense but fizzled out by the late innings of the 9-5 loss.
FIU struck first with a one-run third before a 6-4-3 double play and a strike out ended the top of the inning. Middle responded well with two runs of its own in the bottom of the inning.
It was two freshmen, Hank LaRue and Ryan Stephens, drove in the runs for Middle in the inning. The Raiders would stretch their lead two three with solo homerun by Will Skinner in the fourth and a sacrifice fly by LaRue to drive Stephens home in the fifth.
LaRue finished the game three for four with two RBIs while Stephens ended three for four with an RBI and a pair of runs scored.
“(Stephens) has struggle at the plate like many freshmen do,” head coach Steve Peterson said. “I was proud to see the three hits he got. It should give him a little confidence.”
Eric Gilley took the mound for Middle Tennessee and put in a solid performance through five innings. With two strikes on the lead-off batter of the sixth inning Gilley fell apart, walking one batter and hitting another.
Gilley gave up his second run of the game and was replaced in favor of Hunter Dawson, who did a good job getting the Raiders through the inning by striking out one batter and forcing a double play to end the top of the sixth.
Dawson gave up one run in the seventh and came back out to start the eighth. However, it was in the eighth that the Raiders lost hold of the game. Dawson put the first two batter on and was replaced in favor of Paul Mittura.
Mittura, who entered the game as Middle’s best reliever with an era of 3.77 in 23 appearances and 43 innings pitched, did not have his best stuff at any point in his appearance.
He gave up Dawson’s two runs on a single after a pass ball allowed both runners to advance into scoring position. Mittura then loaded the bases and gave up a three-RBI double. In all, FIU scored five runs in the inning to claim an eight to four lead.
Middle scored its final run of the game in the bottom of the eighth on a double by Trent Miller. FIU grabbed another run in the top of the ninth, which was more than enough to seal victory over the Raiders.
“Nothing happened today that hasn’t happened many times already this season,” Peterson said. “We’ve lost games every that’s possible. It’s hard, but we have lost leads consistently throughout the season. I have to be very honest with you, there’s not much confidence when we go to that bull pen.”
The Blue Raiders are now a game behind Arkansas-Little Rock for the eighth spot in the Sun Belt. The team has two games against Tennessee, with Wednesday’s game being played 6 P.M. at home, before going on the road to face UL-Lafayette.
“You can’t imagine what a win could do for this club,” Peterson said. “Just playing good is not going to do anything for this team.”
Middle will finish the season at home with a three-game series against rival Western Kentucky beginning May 19.