CHARLESTON, Ill. – In a game that featured 37 total hits and just four half innings where a run was not scored by either team, the University of Tennessee at Martin baseball team slugged its way past Ohio Valley Conference rival Eastern Illinois 17-14 in game one of an important conference series.
“The great thing about baseball is that there is no clock to run out on you if you get down,” said head coach Rick Robinson. “Our guys did a great job responding after giving up seven runs in the second inning and fighting their way back into the game. We were able to score in eight of the nine innings and pick up a big win.”
Creighton Eldridge continued his recent tear with a lead-off home run to start the game and put the Skyhawks ahead 1-0 early. It was the Mansfield, Texas native’s ninth big fly on the season. The center fielder picked up his second RBI of the contest in the second inning with an RBI-single through the right side. UT Martin brought home two more runs in the inning scored by Ben Aslett and Tyler Albright to extend the advantage to 4-0.
Eastern Illinois (16-30, 9-13 OVC) fought back in the bottom half of the second inning with their biggest offensive output on the day. The Panthers pushed across seven runs on six total hits to take the lead 7-4. The home squad tacked on two more in third to take what looked like a solid 9-4 lead after three innings.
UT Martin (22-23, 9-13 OVC) answered back with a run in the top of the fourth inning, as senior Dan Kerwin launched yet another bomb, this time over the center field wall, to bring the Skyhawks within four, 9-5. It was Kerwin’s fourth home run in as many conference games, dating back to last weekend.
The Skyhawks picked up another run in the fifth inning on an RBI-base knock from senior Josh Hauser. However, Eastern Illinois responded in the bottom half of the inning to earn back their four-run advantage, 10-6.
The visiting team turned the game upside down in the top of the sixth, as UT Martin poured in five runs to take back the lead. Ryan Helgren drove in a run on a sacrifice fly, while Aslett, Connor Aube and Tanner Wessling all picked up RBI-hits in the inning to give their squad an 11-10 lead. Unfortunately for the Skyhawks, the Panthers picked up a pair of solo homers in the bottom half of the inning, as the lead changed hands yet again in favor of Eastern Illinois 12-11.
The resilient Skyhawks answered back once again in the top of the seventh inning. Hauser picked up his second RBI-single of the day and Aslett pounded a three-run blast to left-center to march UT Martin back in front 15-12. For Aslett, it was his first career home run in the blue and orange and it could not have come at a more critical time in the season.
As the offensive theme continued for the day, the Panthers got one run back in the in the bottom of the seventh to trim UT Martin’s advantage 15-13. However, the Skyhawks refused to relinquish this lead as the bats continued to produce in the eighth inning with a solo shot off the bat off of senior Ryan Helgren to push the lead back out to 16-13.
The Panthers got one back in the bottom half of the eighth inning, but Keylen Steen shut the door on any comeback attempts with his solo bomb in the top of the ninth to seal the 17-14 victory for UT Martin. It was the Chehalis, Wash. native’s second homer on the year.
In total offensively, Hauser (4-6, two RBI’s), Kerwin (3-6, two runs), Aube (3-5, three runs), Aslett (3-6, four RBI’s), Eldridge (2-7, two RBI’s), Wessling (2-4, two runs) and Steen (2-5, two runs) all notched multiple hits in the slugfest.
Senior Alex Evans (7-4) picked up the win tossing four relief innings and striking out five in the hard earned victory. Alex Stevenson (4-3) took the loss for the Panthers.
The Skyhawks will look to take the series tomorrow afternoon, as they meet Eastern Illinois in game two of this pivotal OVC matchup. First pitch from Charleston, Ill. is slated for 1 p.m.