Story by Blake Bernier, Staff writer
Following a nine-game road stretch and 10 consecutive losses, the Racers faced the defending OVC champions and No. 1 team in the OVC, Southeast Missouri State on April 24-26.
SEMO (29-15, 19-5) came into the game Friday ranked seventh in the nation in runs scored per game and the Redhawks feasted on the pitching of Murray State (14-32, 9-12).
There were 37 runs scored in the three games by SEMO and only one pitcher had success against the Redhawks.
With the season on the line the Racers will play Belmont this weekend and have the task of figuring things out before it’s too late. The Racers are 1.5 games out of the final spot to qualify for the OVC Tournament with nine OVC games left to play.
“We need to find ourselves in a hurry,” said Head Coach Kevin Moulder. “This is like drawing a line in the sand right here and this is it for us. The playoffs start this weekend and if we don’t win this series, for all intents and purposes we’re out of it.”
In the first inning of the game on Friday there was every indication that the game would be high scoring. The Redhawks scored two runs and the Racers followed up with one of their own in the first inning, but after that point the game turned into a pitcher’s duel.
Racer starting pitcher Brad Boegel held SEMO hitless through the next six innings before allowing a run to score in the top of the eighth. His opposition, Joey Luchessi, dominated through eight innings of work allowing just one run and striking out a career-high 13 batters.
Heading into the bottom of the ninth the Racers trailed 3-1, as SEMO sent out their freshman closer, Matthew Wade, to record the final three outs. With one out, pinch hitter Clay Kelly drew a walk and Derek Yoder followed up with a hit-by-pitch.
Yoder set a new school record for times hit by a pitch in a season with 17 now and there are still 10 games remaining.
“He doesn’t bruise easy,” Moulder said. “He’s a tough kid and right now with Brock out he’s done a great job of leading the team and he’s kind of the tone setter for us.”
After the free pass to Yoder, freshman infielder Kipp Moore had the opportunity to be the hero. Instead of a homerun, Moore delivered with a run scoring fielders choice hit and senior infielder, Matt McGowan singled in Moore to tie the game, 3-3.
Boegel continued to pitch into the 10th inning and after giving up a run Moulder decided to pull him from the game with the Racers trailing 4-3.
The relief pitcher, junior Andrew Bramley, surrendered five runs in just two thirds of an inning. By the time it was all over SEMO was up 10-3 after scoring seven runs in the extra frame.
“Bramley had thrown the ball really well in back-to-back outings,” Moulder said. “And for whatever reason he just didn’t have it that night.”
In game two, senior pitcher Brock Downey failed to make it out of the first inning because SEMO scored 10 runs before the third out was recorded. The Racers made a comeback attempt but ultimately fell short 17-12.
“He can’t hurt himself further,” Moulder said. “So it’s not like he’s putting his career in jeopardy but he’s not healthy and it obviously showed.”
Downey only lasted a third of an inning and gave up six runs on five hits. This was the shortest outing of Downey’s career.
“Brock has the mentality and the heart, and he’s a warrior,” Moulder said. “He wants the ball and wants to be out there. He clearly wasn’t right, and that’s my fault for putting him out there.”
Injuries and fatigue have hurt the pitching staff for the Racers throughout the season. A semi-healthy Downey wanted to have the ball and get back to the mound.
“At this point we are borderline desperate for pitching so we let him go out there and he was probably at about 60 percent,” Moulder said.
The Racers lost game three 10-2 and used four pitchers including junior first basemen and designated hitter, Dalton West.
“Dalton is a great teammate and he will do whatever it takes to help the team,” Moulder said. “There’s been a few times during the year that we’ve been down on our arms and we’ve needed him just to get through the weekend and he’s done a pretty good job.”
On Tuesday the Racers played UT Martin in a non-conference game and lost 14-3. The lone bright spot on the day was a three-run homerun by sophomore infielder Clay Kelly in the eighth inning.
“I worked a full count and fouled some pitches off,” Kelly said. “I was lucky enough to catch a hanging split-finger pitch that I hit over left center.”
Now the Racers will attempt to keep their tournament hopes alive at 5 p.m. Friday in Nashville, Tenn. against the Belmont Bruins. This will be the Racers 34th road game of the season.
“It’s been a challenge and it kind of grinds on you but there’s no excuses,” Moulder said. “We just haven’t been able to get the job done.”