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MARTIN, Tenn. – After completing a successful 5-1 homestand, the University of Tennessee at Martin baseball team will hit the road and head to the Palmetto State to compete in the First Pitch Invitational hosted in Greenville, SC. The Skyhawks will play a trio of programs for the first time as they take on Presbyterian Friday, Mar. 3 at 11 p.m., Furman Saturday, Mar. 4 at 4 p.m., and Michigan State Sunday, Mar. 5 at 10 a.m.
For UT Martin head coach Rick Robinson, this trip will serve as a homecoming of sorts. As a native of Brevard, NC, the Skyhawks will be competing roughly 45 minutes from Robinson’s home town.
“Only being about 45 minutes from where I grew up means a lot of my family and friends will be there,” said Robinson. “This weekend is going to be a good test for our team playing three quality opponents in Presbyterian, Furman and Michigan State. These games will feel more like an OVC weekend than any weekend we have had so far.”
UT Martin was assisted on their five-game winning streak by some excellent pitching performances. Dalton Westfall (2-0, 0.00 ERA) was named this past week’s Ohio Valley Conference pitcher of the week for his 12-strikeout performance against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Feb. 25. It was the Buckhannon, W.Va. native’s second weekly honor of the season, while he currently ranks as the number one pitcher in the country in strikeouts (27) and ERA.
As a staff, the Skyhawks also rank first in the country in strikeouts per nine innings (13.2). Seniors Alex Evans (1-0, 1.00 ERA) and Jake Patzner (1-0, 3.60 ERA) have each notched 13 punch outs on the year for UT Martin. The Skyhawks will likely send out lefty Dom Bazzani (1-1, 6.23 ERA) on Friday against Presbyterian, while Westfall is scheduled to get the nod against Furman on Saturday and Patzner will likely take the mound against Michigan State on Sunday.
The Skyhawk offense has held its own as well to start the season. Senior Tanner Wessling currently ranks seventh nationally and first in the OVC in batting average (.600), while the Kent, Wash. native also ranks fifth nationally in on-base percentage (.692). Infielder Tyler Albright has pitched in for the UT Martin bats as well collecting a .478 average on his way to his current six-game hitting streak. The second baseman has tallied a run scored or an RBI in every game this season for the Skyhawks. Three different UT Martin hitters have hit long balls in the opening six games. Dan Kerwin (1), Ryan Helgren (1) and freshman Robert Worley (1) each have left the yard for the Skyhawks.
UT Martin will open up the First Pitch Invitational with an afternoon game against Presbyterian (5-5) on Friday. Under 14-year head coach Elton Pollock, the Blue Hose early season success includes a 4-3 road win at Southeastern Conference powerhouse Alabama on Feb. 19. Presbyterian is scheduled to send out lefty Brian Kehner (0-1, .655 ERA) for the Friday afternoon matchup and are led offensively by A.J. Priaulx (.333 average, four RBI’s).
The Skyhawks will turn their attention to the tournament’s host Furman (6-2) on Saturday evening. The Paladins are led by slugger Brandon Elmy. The power-hitting first baseman has tallied three homers and eight RBI’s thus far in 2017. Head coach Brett Harker is expected to go with lefty Grant Schuermann (2-0, 5.25 ERA). The redshirt-sophomore tossed seven innings, striking out six in his last outing where he picked up his second win of the season over Monmouth.
Sunday’s opponent Michigan State (6-1) has started the season red-hot under the direction of nine-year veteran coach Jake Boss. After sweeping a four-game set on the road against Abilene Christian, the Spartans took two-of-three at UNC Greensboro, including a 22-run offensive outburst in their 22-16 win on Feb. 25. Michigan State is led offensively by four different hitters who have notched averages of .400 or better. Dan Durkin (.452, five doubles, 13 RBI’s), Marty Bechina (.429, four homers), Zack McGuire (.406, five doubles) and Danny Gleaves (.400, three doubles) will help lead the Spartan offense that ranks first in the Big Ten Conference in batting average, hits, doubles, home runs, and RBI’s. Right-hander Andrew Gonzalez (0-0, 10.80 ERA) is expected to get the start for Michigan State.
A live feed for Saturday’s matchup against Furman can be accessed by following the above link.