The MTSU baseball team took the three-game series from No. 10 ranked Rice today with an 8-5 win at Reese Smith Jr. Field. It was the Blue Raiders fourth win out of its last five games, and second Conference USA series win this season.
“Pitching and defense more than anything,” MTSU junior starting pitcher and former Riverdale star Johnathan Frebis said after the win. “We are built on getting quality starts from our starters and getting good, solid defense, because hitting is going to be up and down. Today, it definitely shined, and if we are going to hit the ball, we are going to win a lot of games.”
MTSU (12-14, 7-5 in C-USA) bounced back to take two of three from Rice after losing Saturday 8-0 in which it only had four hits. On Sunday, the Blue Raiders had 13 hits, which included a five-run fifth inning to break the game open. The series win is a huge momentum boost for the Blue Raiders, especially in the C-USA standings. Now, it has a home C-USA record of 5-1 this season.
“It is big,” MTSU junior second baseman Dustin Delgado said. “Rice is a great team and to prove to everyone we can play with top notch teams like that it is big time.”
Delgado finished the game going 3-for-4 with two RBIs. MTSU senior third baseman Hank LaRue was 3-for-4 with one RBI.
The Blue Raiders broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fifth with five runs during the at-bat. Senior cente rfielder Stephens singled to center, and LaRue singled to right for his 200th career hit. Junior designated hitter Jake Ingold hit a bunt single past the Rice third baseman to load the bases. Junior second baseman Austin Bryant walked and Stephens scored to break the tie.
LaRue scored on a Rice wild pitch, and Delgado singled to left and brought home Ingold and Bryant to make the score 5-1. The final run of the inning came when senior first baseman Trent Miller doubled off the left field wall, which scored Delgado, and after five innings MTSU had a 6-1 lead.
“That was huge because it turned everything in our favor,” Frebis said. “We were getting out of jams on defense, and they just kept pounding the ball on defense. When you get a five-run inning, you should not lose too many games. It was a good inning for us.”
In the top of the eighth, Rice added a run when shortstop Leon Byrd doubled down the right field line bringing home left fielder Michael Aquino to cut the MTSU lead to 6-2. The Owls two more runs when Connor Teykl scored from third after LaRue bobbled the grounder at third base, and Cook singled to bring home Byrd to make the score 6-4.
The Blue Raiders added some insurance in the top of the ninth when junior left fielder Jared Allen tripled off the left field wall. Stephens singled past a drawn in Rice infield to score Allen from third to make the score 7-4. Stephens later scored on a single to right by LaRue to increase the lead to 8-4.
Rice (21-9, 9-3) cut the lead to 8-5 in the top of the ninth after Teykl singled to score third baseman Shane Hoelscher.
Rice got on the board in the top of the first when catcher Skyler Ewing doubled down the left field line to bring right fielder Keenan Cook home to give the Owls a 1-0 advantage.
The Owls had several chances to increase the lead later in the game, including getting the bases loaded in the top of the fourth. However, Frebis got out of the jam when Owl second baseman Ford Stainbeck popped up to right field to end the threat.
MTSU tied the score in the bottom of the fourth when Delgado scored off a double play to tie the score at one.
Frebis picked up the win to improve to 2-3 on the season. He pitched six innings, while giving up six hits, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. His era improved to 4.29 on the season. Sophomore Garrett Ring picked up his first career save for the Blue Raiders.
“We always have confidence in (Johnathan) Frebis,” Delgado said. “He is always going to come out and do his job, and we just played good defense behind him. (Garrett) Ring came in and he wanted the ball. That is what we want out of our bull pin. We got to have guys that want the ball and that are going to stick it do them.”
MTSU is back in action against in-state rival Memphis on Tuesday and Wednesday, with both games starting at 6 p.m. MTSU's next C-USA series is this weekend at Southern Miss. The April 6 game at USM will be shown at 1:30 p.m. on Fox Sports One.