JACKSON, Tenn. – No. 3 seed Jacksonville State scored nine unanswered runs between the sixth and eighth innings to come from behind and beat the No. 2 seed Eastern Kentucky University baseball team, 9-4, on Friday afternoon in an elimination game at the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament at Pringles Park.
It was not the ending EKU envisioned for a stellar season in which the Colonels won a school-record 19 conference games and earned a share of their first OVC regular season title since 2000. EKU finishes the 2012 campaign with a record of 31-23, its second 30-win season under fourth year head coach Jason Stein.
With senior right-hander Matt Harris dealing from the mound early in the game, EKU held a 3-0 lead through the first five innings of the game. Senior Richie Rodriguez led off the game with a solo home run, his 14th of the season. Then, in the top of the second, senior A.J. Jamison reached on an error by JSU third baseman Sam Eberle, advanced to third on a single by senior Dustin Dunlop and scored on a wild pitch. The Colonels made it 3-0 in the top of the fourth as Jamison led off the frame with a base hit, went to third on another single by Dunlop and scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by junior Shaun Ball.
Harris allowed just one hit through the first nine innings and had retired nine straight Gamecocks heading into the bottom of the sixth. In that inning, however, he walked the first two batters he faced. After getting Kyle Stone to pop out for the first out of the frame, Scott Underwood ripped a double into the left-center gap, scoring both base runners and cutting the Colonels’ lead to just one. Underwood then went to third on a wild pitch and tied the score, 3-3, when he came home on a sacrifice fly to center field by Ben Waldrip.
Spurred by two more key walks from junior reliever Anthony Bazzani and a two-out, bases-clearing double by Waldrip, JSU (28-29) exploded for five more runs in the bottom of the seventh to take a commanding 8-3 lead. The Gamecocks added one more run in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI single by Stone to make it 9-3.
In his final at-bat as a Colonel in the top of the ninth, Rodriguez did what he had done so many times in his career: laced an RBI single through the left side of the infield, scoring Ball and making it 9-4; however, it was not enough as, three batters later, sophomore Bryan Soloman grounded out to end the game and the Colonels’ magical season.
Harris went 5.1 innings and allowed three runs on just two hits in his final start at EKU. Senior left-hander Greg Terry (2-4) picked up the loss, working 1.1 innings and surrendering two runs on three hits.
Right-hander Hunter Rivers (6-3) worked eight innings for JSU, allowing three runs on eight hits while striking out seven batters.
Rodriguez finished his record-breaking career by going 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. In all, seniors had eight of the Colonels’ nine hits in the game.