CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Beginning their eighth and final Ohio Valley Conference weekend with a statement performance in enemy territory, the University of Tennessee at Martin baseball team quieted the Southeast Missouri Redhawks on Friday evening with a 14-hit bludgeoning over the current top seed in the league standings, concluding the series opener on a 7-0 explosion over the final four innings to reach a 10-3 triumph and their second OVC victory in a true road setting.
Not only were the UTM bats sizzling over the latter portion of the contest, but the Skyhawk pitching tandem of Seth Petry and Tucker Reed did their part in ensuring that SEMO quickly ran out of gas. Surrendering only four hits to one of the most potent offenses in the conference while striking out 10 batters, UT Martin’s sensational defensive effort helped concoct a delicate balance of offensive dexterity with an unyielding barricade on the other side.
As the game slipped into a 3-3 stalemate following a pair of Redhawk runs in the bottom of the 5th, Petry and Reed wrapped a suffocating knot around the SEMO batting order to the tune of zero hits the rest of the way for the home unit. Meanwhile, the Skyhawks’ offensive progression – while already steady through the first half of the battle – was about to skyrocket and open the floodgates for a seven-run W.
First baseman Ethan Whitley emphatically put the visitors on the board with a three-run blast over the centerfield wall in the 4th frame, the second time in as many appearances that the fifth-year senior registered a homer of the three-score variety, his fifth HR of 2022 and 35th of his career to officially move into a tie for second-place all-time in UT Martin baseball history.
In his next trip to the plate two innings later, Whitley immediately severed the 3-3 tie with his fourth RBI of the night – just one short of a career-best for a single outing – wrangling in Casey Harford on a base hit for the second of three runs brought in from the shortstop, who himself went two-for-three for his 18th multi-hit performance of the semester.
Only the first of a four-run sequence in the top of the 6th, Whitley’s aforementioned score-inducing single paved the way for an RBI-double by rightfielder Wil LaFollette in the next at-bat. Infielder Nate Self made it three consecutive swings that brought at least one sprinter to home base, bringing in both LaFollette and Whitley for his 5th hit in the past two meetings.
Not satisfied with a 7-3 advantage, UT Martin thrusted the lead to its final resting place of seven with a three-run burst in the 9th, opened on a run-scoring double from freshman DH Blaze Bell. Lead-off man Will Smith – who tallied that run – managed to extend a six-game hitting streak just moments earlier, the 13th consecutive game that the preseason all-league performer has managed to get on base at least once.
Once Bell and Harford moved into scoring position to continue rubbing salt in the wound, leftfielder Jack Culumovic joined the party by securing the team’s fourth double of Game 1 to score those two runners on the 118th extra-base connection of the spring.
After filling in for Petry’s exquisite 5.1 innings of work, Reed unleashed a mesmerizing string of K’s to leave the Redhawks with an increasingly-miniscule chance of mustering a comeback bid. Altogether, Reed retired six batters in a row (including the entire side in the bottom of the 8th) to put a lock on SEMO’s offensive output by holding the opponent without a single hit over the game’s last four innings.
Scooping up one of the most impressive OVC wins of the season in the final weekend of competition, UTM will look to build on tonight’s massive confidence-booster with a similar showing in tomorrow afternoon’s rematch from Cape Girardeau. First pitch in Game 2 on Saturday is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.