The MTSU baseball team started the season slow, but by the end of 2014 it finished its first year in Conference USA with a fourth-place finish.
The Blue Raiders season ended with two losses in last week’s C-USA tournament after opening with a 3-2 win over Old Dominion, the squad that eventually knocked MTSU out. However, second year head coach Jim McGuire was pleased with the team’s fight at the end.
“We got hot, and we started to play better,” McGuire said. “We understood a little bit better what we had to do. The pitching staff came along. It was our savior at the end because we were able to piece it together. I am really proud of how we battled at the end. To get up to fourth place in C-USA, as tough of a league as it is, was a good accomplishment for our first year in C-USA.”
The Blue Raiders started off the season with a 5-10 record but rebounded to finish at 31-27, 17-13 on the. After MTSU defeated Old Dominion 3-2 in the first round, the Blue Raiders fell to national power Rice 8-2 on May and then their season ended the following day with a 2-1 loss to ODU.
Rice became the C-USA champion, and it will be making its 20th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, while ODU also earned an at-large berth to the field of 64 starting this week.
Unlike its previous home, the Sun Belt, which was a hitter-dominated league, C-USA is known for being pitching dominated. The Blue Raiders had one of the top throwers in the nation in senior Zac Curtis. During the regular season, he led the nation in strikeouts with 136. His performance earned first-team All-C-USA honors.
“He had one of the most phenomenal years I have got to witness,” McGuire said. “He is such a competitor. He really developed and he was at the top of his game.”
The team finished with a team ERA of 4.10 in one of the most competitive leagues in the nation.
“It was much difference than we anticipated,” McGuire said. “It is a very pitching dominated league. We prepared for that match up pretty well with our pitching staff. It was one of the lowest ERAs we have had in a long time. Overall, as a pitching staff, we matched up well. We came along during the last month of the season. We handed the game better.”
The offense was led by junior Jared Allen and senior Trent Miller, as both were named first team All-C-USA. Miller finished the year with a league-leading 25 doubles and batted a team-high .339 with 45 RBIs. Allen led the league in home runs with 10 during the season. Overall, the Blue Raiders hits 31 home runs, which led the conference.
The Blue Raiders will be saying good-bye to eight seniors who have been through a lot during their time on campus. Some of them were there when long time head coach Steve Peterson retired after the 2012 season, and trusted assistant McGuire took over the program the following year. Those seniors include Ryan Stephens, Hank LaRue, Jake Ellison, Miller, Curtis, Jonathan Sisco, Paul Mittura and Cody Tollison.
“It is going to be a tough loosing all of them,” McGuire said.
However, MTSU will be returning a key group of players in 2015 hoping to compete for a C-USA title. Those include Dustin Delgado, Michael Adkins, Johnathan Frebis, Austin Bryant, Allen and Jake Ingold.
“It is a good solid nucleus coming back,” McGuire said. “The best part is up the middle I feel good about that, but we got to fit the other pieces around that.”
The Blue Raiders will also welcome five incoming freshman and three JUCO players to the program in Tucker Beathard, Ronnie Jebavy, Blake Stansberry, Tyler Troutt, Nate Hoffman, Will Kincanon, Kevin Sullivan and Ryan McCullers.
“I think all of them will help us,” McGuire said.