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The Murray State News

The Murray State News

The Murray State News

Gardner shines, Racers avoid sweep against Belmont

Graduate right-hander Sam Gardner threw a complete game shutout for the Racers, propelling Murray State to a win in game three against Belmont. (Photo courtesy of Parker Griffeth/Racer Athletics)

Simon Elfrink

Sports Editor

[email protected]

A powerful weekend from the Belmont Bruins’ offense made for the second straight OVC series loss for Murray State baseball. 

The Racers lost both games on Saturday, April 17, but thanks to some elite pitching, the Racers capitalized on the last game of the series on Sunday, April 19.

“They’re a good team, and we didn’t play great,” said Head Coach Dan Skirka. “They took advantage of some errors and we weren’t able to get the big hit when we had guys on base. The big thing was we found a way to win game three. Avoiding that sweep and keeping us right there at the top of the OVC standings was our takeaway.”

Game One

The first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, April 17, featured a hot start from the Racers’ offense. Senior second baseman Jordan Cozart hit an infield single to get on base with one out, and a sacrifice fly from senior right fielder Brock Anderson’s sacrifice fly to deep center field allowed Cozart to take second base. Redshirt junior third baseman Bryson Bloomer hit a single to left-center field to score Cozart an at-bat later, giving the Racers an early 1-0 lead. 

The Racers’ starting pitcher, redshirt freshman Jacob Pennington, found himself in trouble as soon as the Bruins’ first batter stepped in the box. Pennington hit the leadoff batter with a pitch and walked another, setting the stage for freshman infielder Brodey Heaton to hit a three-run homer. 

“That’s uncharacteristic of him,” Skirka said. “We gave him the start and usually he doesn’t do that. That’s what we talked about going into the game, and then we might’ve jinxed him, I guess. He went out and hit the first guy, walked the second guy, and all of a sudden they’re rallying and you’re like ‘Man, they haven’t even put a ball in play yet.’”

The Racers were never able to overcome Belmont’s lead, which continued to grow over the course of the game. The Bruins added a run in the bottom of the second, before putting up a crooked number in the bottom of the fourth and another run in the eighth. The Racers’ only other run of the game came from a solo homer off the bat of redshirt junior first baseman Trey Woosley, his third of the season. By the end of the game, the scoreboard posted an 8-2 victory for the Bruins. 

Redshirt junior right-hander Carter Poiry finished the last three innings on the mound for the Racers, allowing only two hits and a single run, striking out four batters along the way. 

Game Two

Scoring came a bit later on in game two, but once again, the Racers were the first team on the board. In the top of the third inning, redshirt junior center fielder Jake Slunder laid down a bunt, reaching first after the pitcher fielded it cleanly, but did not manage to beat Slunder’s speed. Cozart walked, putting runners at first and second, and Anderson delivered with a double to score Slunder. Bloomer followed up with a sacrifice fly to right field, giving the Racers a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the third. 

Slunder let off again in the fifth inning, this time ripping a triple down the left field line. Cozart grounded out to get him across, giving the Racers a 3-0 lead. 

However, the Bruins equalized the score with a three spot in the bottom of the fifth with a three-run homer off the bat of sophomore outfielder John Behrends. 

Behrends found himself in the middle of the scoring in the bottom of the sixth inning, earning a bases-loaded walk to bring in another run, giving the Bruins a 4-3 lead. A bases-clearing triple from junior infielder Logan Jarvis busted the game open, and when a single let Jarvis trot across home plate, the score became 8-3. 

The Racers tried to scrape something together in the top of the eighth inning, getting runners at second and third after a walk and a double. Freshman designated hitter Seth Gardner hit an RBI-groundout to the third baseman, and Woosley poked another grounder to the second baseman for the second run of the inning. However, the Racers went down quietly in the top of the ninth, giving the Bruins a 8-5 win. 

Game Three 

With both teams 16-16 overall in the season, the Racers looked to salvage the last game of the weekend series against Belmont. While the Bruins had had no trouble scoring earlier in the weekend, graduate right-handed pitcher Sam Gardner was virtually untouchable on the mound, throwing a complete game shutout and locking down the Bruins’ offense. Gardner’s nine innings on the mound resulted in only five hits for Belmont while he fanned nine batters over 113 pitches thrown. A nine-inning shutout hasn’t been thrown by a player in a Murray State uniform since 2013.

“He was awesome, he really was,” Skirka said. “He was 91-94, just had all his pitches working. He had that look in his eye…he just dominated. He just flat out dominated today, and we needed him to. That was what was big.”

The Racers also had difficulty scoring, but thanks to a big day from redshirt junior infielder David Hudleson, who started the game as shortstop for the Racers, they were able to pull out a win by a slim two-run margin. Hudleson has only appeared in nine games before the Belmont series, slashing .273 and driving in five batters on six hits. Hudleson added three more hits after going 3-3 on Sunday and knocking in another run. Skirka said Hudleson’s contribution was huge in the win, but whether or not he’ll make more starts remains uncertain. 

“It’s kind of based on matchups and things like that,” Skirka said. “ [We] just felt good with him today and he came through for us, so we’ll see what the rotation ends up being.”

The Racers came away with the same weekend record as they did in their last three-game series againstSEMO. However, the Racers’ offensive numbers took a dive in the few days between games, as they scored 22 runs against the Redhawks and only nine against Belmont. Skirka said he is not alarmed, and that as a whole his hitters just had a bad weekend. 

The Racers look to turn things around with a single game against Bellarmine University at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20, in Louisville, Kentucky.

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