MTSU's ninth-inning rally eliminates No. 15 Rice from C-USA tourney
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Trailing going into the ninth inning and facing elimination, Middle Tennessee State came off of the deck with two runs to secure a 6-5 win against No. 15 Rice in an elimination game at the C-USA Championship at Pete Taylor Park.
The Blue Raiders (31-26) survived while eliminating top-seeded Rice (35-20), which went two-and-out in the tournament for the first time since 2008.
It was Middle Tennessee State's ninth win in its final at-bat and the Blue Raiders improved to 13-3 in one-run games -- best in C-USA.
"It's a huge win for us," Middle Tennessee head coach Jim McGuire said. "We're glad to be where we are. We are excited to get another opportunity [Friday]. I know it's going to be tough no matter what happens."
Jared Allen and Michael Adkins each had multi-hit games for Middle Tennessee State. Allen was 2-for-5 with two doubles, one RBI and one run scored. Adkins was 2-for-4 with a double and one run scored. Brad Jarreau continued his fine work as he was 1-for-4 with two RBI and one run scored. Ronnie Jebavy was 1-for-4 with one run scored and extended his hitting streak to six games.
Austin Bryant (1-for-4, run scored), Kevin Sullivan (1-for-2) and Kevin Dupree (1-for-4) also factored in the Blue Raider offense.
Starting pitcher Nate Hoffman was solid. A junior righty, he pitched six innings, scattered seven hits and allowed three runs, two earned, before giving way to relief pitcher Kooper Kessler with a 4-3 lead. Middle Tennessee improved to 11-2 in games started by Hoffmann, including two wins against Rice.
"[Hoffmann] has been this way the entire year for us," McGuire said. "He's kind of been our stopper. He's done a tremendous job. He did a great job today because we couldn't afford to go to the bullpen early again or we would have been in deep trouble. Just another good performance by him. A gutty performance. He found a way to keep us in the game and get it done."
Kessler worked three innings, allowed three hits and two runs before battled and earned the win to improve to 3-0. Although no save was awarded, shortstop Bryant easily could have earned one following his web gem to start the bottom of the ninth.
Rice outfielder Charlie Warren hit Kessler's first offering of the bottom of the ninth down the left field line, approximately 15 feet behind the third-base bag. Bryant sprinted from his position into short left and laid out to make a diving catch and prevent a double to start the ninth. Two outs later, Middle Tennessee was still alive in the tournament.
Trailing 5-4 going to the top of the ninth, Adkins just missed a solo home run when he belted a shot that went off of the wall for a double and chased relief pitcher Austin Orewiler from the game. Closer Matt Ditman entered to protect the lead and keep Rice alive.
Middle Tennessee had other ideas.
Sulllivan laid a bunt down the third-base line to advance Caleb Smith, pinch-running for Adkins. Sullivan was rewarded for his execution when third baseman Grayson Lewis' errant throw went down the right field line allowing Smith to motor home from second with the tying run.
Jarreau followed with another sacrifice and it too resulted in an error to put runners at first and second. Jarreau would eventually score on a wild pitch to give the Blue Raiders a 6-5 lead.
Middle Tennessee scored single runs in the second and third and added two in the fourth when Jarreau's bases-loaded single scored Bryant and Adkins to give the Blue Raiders a 4-0 lead.
Rice battled back with one in the fourth and two in the sixth. The Owls tied the game in the seventh and took a 5-4 lead in the eighth to set the stage for Middle Tennessee State's dramatic comeback.