Impressive bullpen performance propels Blue Raiders past Vols

Bullpen held Tennessee hitless over final seven innings

April 23, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - An impressive bullpen performance coupled with an offensive outburst propelled the Blue Raider baseball team to an 11-5 win over Tennessee on Tuesday night at Reese Smith Jr. Field in front of 2,540 fans. It marked the largest crowd since 2004 and is the fourth-largest since Middle Tennessee (23-20) joined the Sun Belt in 2001.

Five pitchers came out of the Middle Tennessee pen to hold the Volunteers (17-22) hitless over the final seven innings, with Kooper Kessler (1-0) picking up the win with two innings of work.

While the pen shut down Tennessee's offense, the Blue Raider bats came alive midway through the contest. Rightfielder Jake Ellison led the way with a 3-for-4 day, including his third homer of the season, and crossed the plate three times. Leftfielder Dalton Henzman also recorded three hits and scored twice with an RBI, while shortstop Ryan Ford slugged his fourth long ball of the year and drove in three runs.

Baseball vs. Tennessee
The two teams traded runs in the first inning before the Vols pulled ahead, 4-1, in the top of the third. MT battled back to within a run in the bottom of the inning, scoring a pair after Henzman and Ellison opened the frame with back-to-back hits.

It was a five-run fourth that gave the Blue Raiders the lead for good, pushing all five runs across with two outs in the inning. Designated hitter Dain McNabb and Henzman each ripped RBI-doubles for the tying and go-ahead runs, and Ellison added an RBI-single in front of Ford's two-run blast to left for the 8-4 lead.

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MT continued to pour it on in the fifth, with McNabb delivering another RBI-single after catcher Michael Adkins drove in a run. McNabb finished the day 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run.

Ellison's solo home run in the sixth made it an 11-4 Blue Raider lead.

Tennessee managed to generate another run in the eighth after loading the bases on three walks, but reliever Cody Tollison picked up the final two outs to stifle the Vols' rally attempt.

Vol starter Blake Thomas (2-1) was tagged for the loss, giving up seven runs, all earned, on six hits in 3.2 innings.

The Blue Raiders hit the road for the next seven games, beginning at Arkansas State this weekend. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. on Friday.

His thoughts on the game overall...
"We got down 4-1 early and we got right back in it and made it 4-3. That was a little unusual for us, usually when we are behind it takes us awhile to get back going. We had some good at-bats in there and it all took off with that big five-run inning. I'm very proud of what we did offensively with 14 hits and 11 runs. The bullpen was big to come in and give up no hits the rest of the game and that was very impressive."

On the bullpen's performance...
"I thought Kooper Kessler did a great job coming in and going at them right off the bat. That's also probably the best that Joey (McClung) has thrown in a while. I thought for two innings he was dominant and that is what we really need him to do coming out of the pen. We really didn't want to use (Daniel) Palo or (Aaron) Hyder tonight. The goal was not to use them and thankfully we didn't. Cody Tollison hasn't pitched for a while, but came in and did a good job. (Heath) Slatton was good for an inning but then he had the two walks. I also thought Garrett Ring was great there in the last inning."

His thoughts on the production at the plate tonight...
"It was very productive for everyone, including Johnny who didn't have a hit. I think our biggest point in the game was being behind 4-1, and we get runners at second and third with no outs. Ford hits the ground ball to the right side and we score. Then Johnny comes up and drives in the next run. We don't get a hit there but we score both runs. That was so important at that point to get the runs and give us a chance, and we capitalized from there."

On today's game...
"It's just another in-state rival. It sort of reminds me of the Vandy games. I played with (Tennessee first baseman) Andrew Lee growing up but I want to beat everybody and tonight was a good win."

On being 3-1 against the SEC...
"Just like in any sport, you get up more for the bigger teams and it's always fun to beat those guys. We just had to focus tonight and play well and we did that."

On the home run...
"It's always tough to face a guy for the first time, but you get in there and just treat him like any other pitcher. It looked like it was going to go foul, but I looked up and the bench was telling me to run so I did and luckily it got over the wall."

On the success of the bottom of the lineup tonight...
"That's baseball. Sometimes you're up and down, but that happens and tonight we were all seeing the ball well and hitting it. Tonight was a real team win and we need to carry this momentum into the weekend."

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