Sharp defensive play lifts Blue Raiders to win over FIU

Curtis delivers solid performance in victory

April 21, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee starting pitcher Zac Curtis shut out the FIU Panthers for five innings en route to the Blue Raiders' 3-2 win on Sunday afternoon at Reese Smith Jr. Field.

Curtis (5-3), backed by solid defense, held the Panthers (22-17, 10-8 Sun Belt) to one run on five hits over seven innings. Daniel Palo tossed the final two innings to pick up his seventh save of the year, allowing one run, which was unearned, on two hits with two strikeouts.

A bases-loaded balk put MT (22-20, 7-11 SBC) on the board in the second, then the Blue Raiders manufactured two runs in the third to take a 3-0 lead. The hit-and-run paid off, as shortstop Ryan Ford led off with a walk and moved to third on a base-knock from second baseman Johnny Thomas. Ford scored on a groundout and Thomas charged home from second on a single from centerfielder Ryan Stephens.

Stephens finished the day 2-for-4 with an RBI. Third baseman Hank LaRue accounted for the other RBI.

That was all the run support Curtis and Palo would need, thanks in large part to some key defensive plays. Rightfielder Jake Ellison saved a run in the second, throwing a strike to the plate to peg a runner out, while it was leftfielder Trevor Haggard's heads-up throw to second that completed a game-ending double play and prevented FIU from scoring the game-tying run.

The Panthers managed to push a run across in the sixth on a double-play ball, then rallied in the top of the ninth to pull within one. A single and pair of walks loaded the bases in the final stanza, and a passed ball allowed a run to cross to make it a 3-2 game. With runners at the corners and one out, first baseman Oscar Aguirre flew to left and both runners tagged. Haggard fired the ball to Thomas at second for the double play, picking up the final out before the runner from third could cross home plate to preserve the victory.

Alex Seibold (2-2) took the loss for FIU, going five innings and allowing three runs, all earned, on five hits. He walked four and struck out three.

MT continues the home stand on Tuesday when Tennessee comes to town. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m.

On the way the game ended...
"It was a bizarre ending to the game, but the call went our way and the thing you have to talk about is Trevor Haggard. That was a tough play and he made a tremendous throw to second base. If the ball is a little left or right and Johnny has to reach to make the tag, then he would have ended up scoring. But he didn't and the umpire said he didn't cross the plate so we win and we are happy."

On Curtis' performance on the mound...
"He was very good today. He was like that last weekend, too. He had a couple of walks at some bad times and put them in position to score, but overall I thought he was very good. We finally had a good start this weekend. Both Friday and Saturday we didn't get it, but we really needed it today and we got it."

On being able to get runs on the board early...
"It's unfortunate that we can't do much more than the three runs, but luckily we were able to hold on and win 3-2. We have to manufacture runs better and steal bases better. The offense is just having a tough time getting going right now. We just have to execute and get it done, but today the three runs were able to stand and get us the win."

On today's game...
"My fastball was working well today and my cutter was working really well, too. It's really been my go-to pitch lately. My curve ball was working really well in plus counts. I didn't have to go back to my fastball which is good. I threw a change-up every once in awhile but it was mostly just fastball and cutter."

On pitching today after the last two days from FIU's offense...
"It's difficult sometimes to watch the other team hit the ball as well as FIU did the last two days, especially since all I care about is the team winning. But in baseball, when you leave the ballpark, it's a new day and when you step between those lines, it's a new game. I know I have to compete every single pitch for the team and hopefully we can come together and win."

On Trevor's play to end the game...
"It's a huge play. I know off the bat he was probably thinking he had to go home with it. But Coach McGuire saw their guy on first was tagging to move up, too, and let our guys know that so Trevor went to get him at second. I didn't see who touched first, but it was a good play and we'll take the win."

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