Story by Mark McFarland, Assistant Sports Editor
Murray State dropped three of its four games last week, losing 11-1 to the University of Kentucky and losing two conference games to UT Martin.
The Racers have had recent struggles not only with their play on the field but with injuries to the team as well. Murray State has lost junior outfielders Aaron Bence and Brandon Gutzler because of injury. Gutzler is out for the season with a broken leg after he ran into the fence chasing a foul ball in the 7-4 victory over UT Martin on Saturday. Bence broke his hand when he got hit by a pitch in the Lindenwood-Belleville game March 2. He tried to go the next game but went 0-2 with two strikeouts before he was replaced in center field.
Head Coach Kevin Moulder said it is tough to lose two of your best hitters and still come out on top.
“The complexion of our team completely changed with pretty drastic injuries to two of our better hitters,” Moulder said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. We are not going to replace the numbers that Bence and Gutzler put up, but it’s going to have to be a collective effort.”
Gutzler is a former national player of the week who has a .385 batting average with five home runs, 24 RBIs and seven doubles. Bence is hitting .444 with one home run and five RBIs on the year.
Moulder said the injuries are the main reason the team’s run production has been down. Just a couple weeks ago the team was second in the country in runs scored behind Vanderbilt University.
The Racers traveled to Tennessee to take on the Skyhawks in their first conference series of the season. The trip did not turn out to be what the Racers had hoped for as they lost two games out of the three.
The defense for Murray State struggled as junior left-handed pitcher Jack Hranec and first baseman gave up five runs in his 4.2 innings pitched, though only two of the runs were earned.
Murray State did not score until the top of the fourth inning when junior first baseman Ramsey Scott hit a two-run home run to take the 2-1 lead.
The Racers couldn’t hang onto the lead as the Skyhawks scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, two hits and a sacrifice fly. Three of the four runs scored in the inning were unearned runs charged to Hranec. Murray State committed two errors in the game leading to three unearned runs.
Murray State fought back as it scored a run in the top of the eighth inning and two in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game going into the last half inning.
UT Martin, however, ended the game on a walk-off single to bring home the win in a 6-5 victory over the Racers.
In game two, Murray State and UT Martin were locked in another close game as the Racers edged out the Skyhawks 7-4.
Neither team scored a run until the top of the third inning when junior catcher and outfielder Tyler Lawrence doubled in the first run of the game, giving the Racers a 1-0 lead. Murray State added two more runs in the top of the fourth inning off a single by Scott and a bases-loaded walk issued to sophomore infielder Caleb Hicks.
UT Martin came back as it got one run in the bottom of the sixth inning and scored three more in the bottom of the seventh to take the 4-3 lead over Murray State.
The Racers tied the game in the top of the ninth and held the Skyhawks scoreless in the bottom half of the inning to send the game to extra innings. Murray State scored two runs in the top of the 11 inning off a double from Hicks and a single from junior outfielder and infielder Adam Bauer.
Murray State kept the Skyhawks off the board in the bottom of the inning to secure the 7-4 in 11 innings. However, the team lost Gutzler for the year due to a broken leg suffered in the game.
In the first game without Gutzler, the Racers struggled as UT Martin defeated them 19-6.
The Racers gave up 25 in the loss and committed one error. The Skyhawks scored in every inning except for the fourth.
Moulder said he wants his team to learn from the mistakes they made and to move on and get better for this weekend.
The Racers will play a home conference series this weekend against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. SIUE swept the Racers last season and have played a difficult non-conference schedule this year. The Cougars have played teams like University of Louisville, Missouri State and University of Memphis and have a 0-12 record on the year.
“They’re struggling a little bit right now; they played a tremendous non-conference schedule,” Moulder said. “So their record is not good, but if you look at the teams they played, there’s a reason for it.”
Over Spring Break the Racers will play the University of Memphis at 6 p.m. on March 22 at home and will then travel to Austin Peay State for a series March 24-26.
Next month, the team will host a baseball camp for young baseball players in the area.
“That’s a fun way and a good way to promote our brand with the younger kids in the area, and I think it’s good for those kids to be around the college players,” Moulder said.