The MTSU baseball closed out an eight game home stand against one of the top teams in the nation tonight at Reese Smith Jr Field. The Blue Raiders fell to No. 6 ranked Vanderbilt 4-3 to drop to 4-7 on the season, while the Commodores improved to 12-2. It was the last game for MTSU before Conference USA play begins this weekend at UAB.
It was the third consecutive one-run loss by the Blue Raiders. Last weekend, MTSU fell to Kent State 6-5 and 5-4 during the last two games of the three-game series on March 2 and March 3.
It had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth after an infield single by junior second baseman Dustin Delgado. However, he was picked off at first base a couple of pitches later and it ended the threat for the Blue Raiders.
“It is three games almost identical,” MTSU head coach Jim McGuire said after the loss. “We fell behind in all three, and we battled. The bull pin was good in all three games. We just fell behind early and we could not get the big hit toward the end. I was proud the way we battled all three days, and we fought. We just got to make it happen and get over the hump.”
The Blue Raiders thinks games like this one against an in-state rival, and a nationally ranked team helps the overall program, especially preparing them for league play.
“I think it is huge, and it’s great for our fans and the community,” McGuire said. “It is great for recruiting, because we can tell players if you come here, Vanderbilt comes here, Tennessee comes here. We play an outstanding schedule. I think it’s a great thing for the program and our team, because we know we can stack up with anybody. We just got to go out, get the job done and get the win.”
Vanderbilt got off to a good start in the top of the first scoring two runs after MTSU starting pitcher Nathan Foriest loaded the bases by walk one and hitting two more Commodore batters. Vanderbilt third baseman Xavier Turner singled to score second baseman Dansby Swanson. Designated hitter Rhett Wiseman hit a sac fly to center to bring home left fielder Bryan Reynolds for the second run of the inning.
MTSU got on the board in the bottom half of the first when junior left fielder Jared Allen tripled off the right center wall to score senior third baseman Hank LaRue to make the score 2-1 Vanderbilt after one inning.
In the next Vanderbilt at-bat, it added two more runs when Reynolds doubled to right scoring centerfielder Nolan Rogers and Swanson to make the score, 4-1.
The Blue Raiders added a run in the bottom of the second when junior second baseman Austin Bryant singled to third scoring senior center fielder Ryan Stephens, and it scored another run in the following inning when Allen singled to left to bring LaRue home again to cut the Commodore advantage down to 4-3.
MTSU finished the home stand with a 3-5 record, and it now heads into C-USA play against UAB this weekend. The Blazers defeated Alabama State tonight 13-1, and it has a record of 11-2 this season. It will be the first ever C-USA game in program history on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. The Blue Raiders believe it is ready to go with league play as it competes for its first conference title since 2009.
“We know we got to battle,” MTSU junior left fielder Jared Allen, who finished the game going 3-for-4 with two RBIs, said after the loss. “We have had three one run losses in a row, and we know we are not going to be given anything. We just got to keep working, because we are close. We are going to get there.”
The Blue Raiders return home March 11 against another in-state rival and fellow SEC opponent Tennessee at 6 p.m. Its first C-USA home series starts March 14 against Charlotte with first pitch at 6 p.m.