The Blue Raiders saw Sun Belt tournament hopes vanish Thursday night with a tough loss to rival Western Kentucky.
Middle had 11 hits in the game but left 12 runners on base, eight of those in scoring position, and was unable to bring a run home as they were defeated 4-0.
Timely hitting, which has been a problem for the team all season, once again made a negative impact.
Daniel Palo took the loss for the Raiders despite one of his better pitching performances of the season. Palo went 7.1 innings for Middle, allowing only four hits and striking out three. Palo exited the game in the eighth inning to a standing ovation from the crowd.
However, in the top of the eighth inning the wheels came off for the Blue Raiders in a tie game. The inning began with an odd out that saw Western’s Ryan Huck pop up to the catcher, Tyler Acker, who proceeded to drop but still make the out at first because the batter remained standing in the batter’s box.
The next batter for Western homered. Then, after loading the bases with two outs, Matt Rice doubled in three runs for the Hilltoppers.
“(Palo) pitched well against (Tennessee), and I thought he pitched even better tonight,” Raider coach Steve Peterson said. “He gave us a chance to win the ball game.
“We had opportunities and there were times we hit the ball really hard, but the bottom line is it doesn’t matter how many hits you get, it’s when you get the hits.”
The game had its fair share of great defensive plays. Johnny Thomas was robbed of a home run in the third inning when Western’s Jared Andreoli scaled the left field wall to take one away.
Thomas made his own great play on defense in the sixth when WKU attempted a hit-and-run play. Ivan Hartle lined a ball hard at Thomas who made a jumping grab and fired to first to double up the runner.
Middle also gave fans a little hope in the bottom of the ninth when, with two outs, Hank LaRue drew a walk to load the bases for Justin Guidry, putting the tying run at the plate. However, Guidry grounded out to the pitcher to complete a hitless night at the plate.
The big bright spot for Middle in the game is one that has been a bright spot all along in the dreary season, the play of freshman third baseman LaRue. LaRue was three for four at the plate with a walk in the game, putting him in a good position to end his freshman campaign with a batting average above .300.
“In recruiting him everybody gave (LaRue) the compliments you like to hear, he’s a ballplayer,” Peterson said. “He’s become a good third baseman, he’s going to become a better third baseman.”
The teams loss eliminates them from a chance at playing in the Sun Belt tournament, but Peterson doesn’t worry about his teams focus for the final two games.
“I will be very disappointed if they don’t come out and try to win the series,” Peterson said. “They haven’t quit on me in the season and I don’t expect them to quit on me now.”
Peterson believes the returning players on this team will use the disappointment of the season to motivate them to be better.
“I’ve always said the greatest motivator for me was losing. You learn to evaluate your failures more than your successes.”