Blue Raiders take down No. 2 Vanderbilt with 4-1 win

Pitching, defense gets the job done

March 20, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The Blue Raider baseball team scored three runs in the first inning and never looked back, taking down No. 2 Vanderbilt, 4-1, on Wednesday night at Reese Smith Jr. Field.

It marked the first victory for Middle Tennessee (12-10, 0-3 SBC) over the Commodores (19-3, 3-0 SEC) since 2009 when the Blue Raiders earned a 5-4 win the NCAA Regional in Louisville, Ky. It was also the first home win over Vandy since 2009.

MT last knocked off a ranked team in 2011, defeating No. 18 Troy twice. The last win against an opponent ranked No. 2 or better was also against Vanderbilt when the Commodores were ranked No. 1 in 2007. MT took that contest, 11-8, at home.

The Blue Raiders earned the win on outstanding pitching and defense, turning three double plays in the contest and holding the Commodores to two hits in the final three innings. Jordan Cooper got MT off to a solid start, tossing 4.2 innings and giving up just three hits. It was the defense that worked around Cooper's six walks, turning a pair of double plays when the Commodores had two runners on and no outs.

Baseball vs. #2 Vanderbilt
Joey McClung picked up the win with 2.2 innings of relief, allowing one run, which was unearned, on three hits. Daniel Palo came on for the final 1.2 innings, throwing 31 pitches, 21 for strikes, and giving up just one hit for his third save of the year.

First baseman Trent Miller and shortstop Ryan Ford led the Blue Raiders offensively. Miller went 2-for-4, driving in the first two runs of the game. Ford was 3-for-4 in the leadoff spot, scoring the game's first run.

Ford led off the first with a single and centerfielder Ryan Stephens followed with a walk before Miller laced a one-out double down the leftfield line, scoring two. Designated hitter Michael Adkins made it back-to-back doubles, plating Miller for the 3-0 lead in the first.

The Commodores put two runners on in each of the next two innings, but MT ended the second with a double play and erased a pair of runners in the third with a double play as well. With a runner at second in the latter frame, Ford made a backhanded stab and threw a strike to first to pick up the final out of the inning and preserve the 3-0 lead.

MT tacked on another run in the third, capitalizing on an error to lead off the inning. Second baseman Johnny Thomas reached on a muffed grounder to second, then stole second and scored on a passed ball.

Cooper sent the Commodores down in order in the fourth thanks in large part to an impressive play by Robert Lawrence. With two down, Lawrence charged a ball head down the leftfield line, made the scoop and threw a one-hopper to first to end the inning.

Vandy managed to push a run across in the sixth on a couple of singles and an error to make it a 4-1 contest, but Ford again made a play on a grounder to prevent any further damage.

The Commodores got a two-out single in the seventh and would have cut into the deficit on a deep fly ball from centerfielder Connor Harrell but for a diving catch at the wall by Stephens for the final out.

McClung and Palo combined to retire the Commodores in order in the eighth, again getting help from the defense on three straight ground balls. Vandy would get one more hit to lead off the ninth, but Palo retired the next three to seal the victory.

The win snapped a five-game skid for the Blue Raiders.

MT continues the homestand with a three-game series against Louisiana weekend. First pitch Friday is slated for 6 p.m.

On tonight's game...
"It was a big win for us against a really good team. They're one of the better teams in the country. But the main thing was to stop the losing streak. And that's what we really needed going into the weekend to get our confidence back and our focus back. It's not that we didn't play well the whole time, but we just had times where things didn't work out for us. But tonight we got some big hits early and got the lead and went from there. But it's a huge win for us."

On winning with pitching...
"It wasn't the prettiest game tonight, the conditions were tough again, the wind blowing in, it was cold, but it was snowing pretty good at one point late in the game. But it was definitely a pitcher's night tonight, but we had too many walks tonight. Cooper was kind of his own worst enemy tonight, but Vanderbilt wasn't squaring the ball up on him and getting good contact, so we were able to work out of those jams to get deep enough in the game that we could get to McClung and then Palo."

On the defense...
"The double plays are the pitchers best friend. So when you give up some walks like we did tonight but are able to get some pitches on the ground, our middle infielders are really good and are able to turn the double play well. I brag on them all the time. They're some of the best guys in the country I feel like, and when you get the ball hit to them, they're usually good enough to get the job done out there. Robert had a big play at third base and Stephens had a great play in center, too. And that was the difference in the game I feel. If we don't make those plays defensively tonight, that opens the door for Vanderbilt to get back in the game."

On beating the number 2 team in the nation...
"It feels pretty good to get a big win like this. We've been on a long losing streak, so it was great to come out and end that today. We also had great fan support which always great to see."

On a great pitching performance...
"I've changed a little bit of stuff. Coach (Skylar) Meade and I have been working on some arm angle things and getting my mind to where I'm just throwing the ball and not thinking too much. It helped a lot tonight, and I pitched pretty well and felt really good out there tonight."

On moving forward after a big win like this...
"It's a big deal. If we had lost again that would've been five or six in a row and that can really get a team down. So winning a game like that, especially over a good team like Vanderbilt who's also an in-state rival, gives us a lot of confidence going into the weekend."

On beating the number two team in the country...
"It feels really good. Vanderbilt is a great team, but Coach McGuire told us before the game we need to believe in ourselves and believe that we can beat a team like Vanderbilt. They're really good, and it's a huge boost to confidence to beat them."

On the performance tonight...
"It's great to have a night like tonight. I've been struggling the last couple weeks and coach still has the confidence in me to bat me in the four-hole. I just had to believe in myself. We've been watching a lot of video and breaking down my swing to try and help me. And it really paid of tonight. So this is a good stepping-stone moving forward."

On the key to tonight's good play...
"The atmosphere was great. We had a lot fans out here tonight, even though it was cold they still came out so that's great to see. And to know that on a losing streak we need to get a win to feel that confidence again."

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