NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin baseball team pushed across a pair of runs in its final at-bat and held on for its first victory of the season tonight, a 5-3 decision over Eastern Michigan at ES Rose Park.
UT Martin (1-6) trailed 2-0 early but came back to take a 3-2 advantage after four innings of play. After Eastern Michigan tied the game in the top of the seventh, the Skyhawks manufactured the eventual game-winning runs in the eighth inning, rewarding Skyhawk interim head coach Brad Goss with his first career managerial victory. Goss previously spent nine years as an assistant at UT Martin before taking over the reins of the program last September.
Freshman Ben Upton continued his red-hot series with a 3-for-4 effort at the plate, scoring a run while driving in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth. Sophomore catcher Drew Erie also produced his second straight multi-hit outing with a 2-for-3 performance today.
Skyhawk starting pitcher Alex Martin allowed just two runs over 5.2 innings this afternoon but did not factor into the decision. Chris Ross escaped a bases loaded jam in the sixth to keep UT Martin’s lead before Stu Jones and John Houston finished off the game with one shutout inning apiece. Jones earned his second career win out of the bullpen while Houston recorded his first career save.
“Eastern Michigan got ahead but we battled back by stringing together some quality at-bats that kept us in the game,” Goss said. “We have been waiting for some timely hits and we finally got some of those with runners in scoring position. Our pitchers worked out of some jams and kept us in the game until our three relievers shut the door.”
The Eagles scored one run in both the first and second innings but Martin would soon settle in. He retired eight straight batters at one point, needing just five pitches to polish off Central Michigan in the top of the third before fanning back-to-back hitters to cap off a perfect fourth inning. He pitched around a pair of walks and a bunt single in the fifth and got two quick outs in the sixth before the Eagles loaded the bases. Ross then induced a flyout on the first pitch he threw to keep the Skyhawk lead intact.
After UT Martin had a runner thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the second, the Skyhawks posted runs in each of the next two innings. Max Balter stole second base after drawing a leadoff walk in the third inning, advancing to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Fletcher Johnson. Chase Young then drove in Balter with a grounder to the right side to make the score 2-1.
The Skyhawks then seized their first lead of the game in the bottom of the fourth. Nico Zych drove a 2-2 pitch for a single up the middle with one away and advanced to third on a single by Upton. Zack Malone then gave UT Martin its third consecutive hit of the inning with a single through the left side that brought Zych home. An Eastern Michigan throwing error off a fielder’s choice then allowed Upton to stroll home and result in a 3-2 Skyhawk advantage.
Back-to-back hits by Eastern Michigan to lead off the top of the seventh tied the game at 3-all but Jones did not allow a ball out of the infield in a scoreless top of the eighth.
In the bottom half of the frame, Sorensen was hit by a pitch with one out and was lifted for pinch runner Taylor Douglas. Douglas advanced to second base on a failed pickoff attempt and would later move up to third base on a fly ball off the bat of Zych. With two outs, Upton jumped on the first pitch he saw to leg out an infield single, then advancing to second on an errant throw by the Eagle shortstop. Fellow freshman Nick Molina then came in to pinch run and two wild pitches later, Molina crossed home to make the score 5-3.
Houston followed with a dominant nine-pitch top of the ninth against the heart of the Eastern Michigan lineup. He put the exclamation point on the victory with a game-ending strikeout of the Eagles’ cleanup hitter on just three pitches.
After unplayable field conditions resulted in this series to be moved, UT Martin will officially open the home portion of its 2014 schedule this Tuesday, Feb. 25 when the Skyhawks take on Southern Illinois out of the Missouri Valley Conference. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Skyhawk Field.