Team effort helps Raiders outlast Old Dominion

Blackham strikeouts ODU batter in bases-loaded jam to end game

May 21, 2014 · @MTAthletics


HATTIESBURG, Miss. - An all-around team effort helped No. 4 seed Middle Tennessee outlast No. 5 seed Old Dominion, 3-2, on the opening day of the Conference USA Baseball Championship at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg.

Wednesday's contest was a nailbiter until the very end. The Monarchs (33-23) loaded the bases with one out, ending the day for Blue Raider reliever Kooper Kessler. Right-hander Matt Blackham forced out P.J. Higgins to an infield fly rule. Second team All-Conference USA selection Josiah Burney drew a full 3-2 count with the bases jammed. Blackham hurled a curveball inside, forcing Burney to swing, clinching the Blue Raider victory. The tournament opening win was the first for MT since knocking off Florida Atlantic in the 2009 Sun Belt Tournament opener. Middle Tennessee (31-25) will take on top-seeded Rice at 4 p.m. on Thursday. The Owls upended No. 8 FIU, 9-2, on Wednesday afternoon.

Southpaw ace Zac Curtis (9-3) mowed down six Old Dominion batters, giving up just two runs on seven hits in seven innings of work for his ninth victory this season. Curtis moved his nation-leading strikeout total to 136. Kessler worked 1.1 innings, giving up two hits. Blackham earned his first career save in two-thirds of an inning. ODU starter Ryan Yarbrough (6-7) got tabbed with the loss, allowing three runs on eight hits in four innings.

Jake Ellison finished 1-for-2 with a RBI. Before leaving the game, Dustin Delgado collected two hits and two RBIs. Michael Adkins hit 2-for-4 with a run scored, while Austin Bryant plated a hit, a run and drove in two runs. Senior Hank LaRue had a single and a double in Wednesday's affair.

A Bryant single and Brad Jarreau double set up a scoring opportunity for Delgado. The junior belted a double to left, scoring both runners and giving Middle Tennessee the 2-0 edge. Delgado would exit that inning due to injury. In his first at bat of the game in the fourth, Ellison drove an RBI single to right allowing Adkins to score the eventual game-winner.

The Monarchs rallied back in the fifth inning. A pair of hit batsmen and back-to-back singles cut the Raiders lead to 3-2. MT ended the threat with a strikeout and fly out. Middle Tennessee made a threat in the sixth with two runners on. However, ODU converted its third double play of the day to end the frame. In the seventh, Ellison made a sprawling catch to prevent the Monarchs from scoring the tying run.

Old Dominion came knocking in the ninth with a loaded bases jam. Blackham forced an infield fly rule out and a strikeout to secure the Blue Raider victory.

Middle Tennessee returns to action against Rice on Thursday at 4 p.m. Fans can watch the game on the C-USA Digital Network or listen on WMOT 89.5 FM.

NOTES: Zac Curtis threw his fewest pitches since March 28, tossing 113 in seven innings ... Matt Blackham recorded his first save as a Blue Raider ... MT collected its first opening tournament victory since defeating Florida Atlantic 12-2 on May 20, 2009 in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.


Middle Tennessee Head Coach Jim McGuire

Opening Statement:

"I felt like we left a lot of runners on and missed a lot of opportunities to push the game open. Overall, it was a gutsy win. It was a team win; a good battle top to bottom. We knew it would be. We played them three games a few weeks ago so we knew what we were getting into. Zac Curtis didn't have his good stuff and was on short rest again this week after two weeks in a row doing it. You could see he was a little tired and didn't have his best stuff but he is our best competitor. He did an outstanding job. We lost Dustin Delgado, but Jake Ellison comes in and gets a big hit to put us up 3-0. Then he makes a play that literally ended up saving the game for us - a diving play in right field. It was an all-around tough ballgame, a good ballgame, but a gutsy performance by us."

On importance of first win:

"It takes a little pressure off of you too. Being the first year of Conference USA, you don't know what to expect. It was a battle for us all year and we played a lot of games. It is not our first time and not our first go-around. To get the first win in the tournament in the first round takes the pressure off."

Middle Tennessee Outfielder Jake Ellison

"First it is unfortunate that Dustin Delgado got hurt. He is a great player. For him to go down, I just came in and did my job, the 10th man I guess you would call it. Two plays - a hit and a catch, but you have to thank that man, (Zac) Curtis. He is a heck of a pitcher."

On importance of first win:

"It is huge. We been playing really well lately and to come out and get the first win is huge. Hopefully, we can carry it over into tomorrow."

Middle Tennessee Pitcher Zac Curtis

"In the beginning it was fastball command. I was just trying to get contact. At first it worked, but as the game kept progressing I got a little tired. I dozed off in some innings not focusing, not concentrating. That is when I hit two batters. It is a long day. Coach (Skylar) Meade talked to me and the defense did great. Off-speed was working today."

On Jake Ellison's diving catch:

Jake is unbelievable. He is a highlight reel all year long. Anytime a ball his hit to right field, I feel like he can track it down. In my opinion, we have the best outfield in the country with its athleticism. Jake coming through off the bench and getting a big hit boosted the momentum and kept the whole team going."

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