CHARLOTTE, N.C. – MTSU mounted another late-inning comeback to win its fourth straight, this time beating conference-foe Charlotte 7-5 in 11 innings at Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium Friday night.
The Blue Raiders were carried by their superb relief pitching while picking up a pair of clutch hits from the bottom of the order to remain atop the Conference USA baseball standings.
Junior Heath Slatton had a breakout game, tossing three shutout innings of perfect relief when the Blue Raiders needed it most. The right-hander made it look easy by retiring nine straight across the eighth, ninth and tenth frames to earn his second win of the season.
The win marked 300 total victories for MTSU coach Jim McGuire during his career, while the Blue Raiders remain undefeated (4-0) in extra-inning affairs.
The series will conclude Saturday when the teams meet for a doubleheader. The first game will get started at noon with Nate Hoffmann and Garrett Ring going for the Blue Raiders.
The MTSU bullpen had a strong showing altogether, giving up just two hits over 5.2 innings in the series opener. That proved huge after Charlotte had registered 10 base hits off starter Johnathan Frebis (5.1 IP, 3 R, 4 K, 1 BB). The only blemish came from a two-run homer to Charlotte’s cleanup batter in the seventh.
Sophomore Kevin Dupree (2-for-3; 3 RBI) showed off his clutch gene by connecting on a two RBI double with one out in the ninth to tie the game 5-5. Then in his next at-bat with one gone in the 11th, Dupree produced an RBI single to put MTSU (21-16, 12-4 in Conference USA) ahead 7-5.
Seniors Jared Allen (2-for-5; HR), Jake Ingold (2-for-5; HR) and Michael Adkins (2-for-4; two runs scored) each recorded two hits. Sophomore Brad Jarreau reached safely twice to extend his reached-base streak to 10 games, and he also collected a sacrifice fly and sacrifice bunt.
The Blue Raider bats struggled early on, managing just two hits in the first five frames, until Allen and Ingold opened up the sixth with back-to-back home runs. The two solo shots broke a 1-1 tie, but the Niners tied it back up in the bottom of the sixth with two runs of their own.
MTSU was able to get the leadoff man aboard eight times, but fell victim to a season-high four double plays.
Charlotte threatened to break the game wide open after scoring two runs on three hits to chase Frebis in the sixth.
Freshman reliever Blake Stansberry took over with one out and runners on the corners, but the sidewinder worked his magic by getting out of the jam. The runner on third got hung up on a ball in the dirt and then Stansberry struck out the batter on the next pitch to end the inning.
Fast forward to the ninth and the Blue Raiders were down to their final three outs while trailing Charlotte 5-3.
Senior Austin Bryant was plunked on the first pitch to start the inning and then Adkins came up with a big one-out single up the middle two batters later. That set up Dupree’s double down the left field line and the he would’ve been the go-ahead run but was cut down trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
Slatton kept the 49ers bats silent, setting up MTSU’s two-run output in the 11th.
With Kevin Sullivan on first after a botched sacrifice bunt attempt, Adkins shot a double to right field to move Sullivan to third. Then, Sullivan scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch before Dupree’s big single to give MTSU an insurance run.
Closer Nathan Foriest came on to shut the door in the 11th and picked up his fifth save of the year.
MTSU at Charlotte
When: Noon and 3 p.m.
Where: Robert & Mariam Hayes Stadium (Charlotte)