Osborne's eighth-inning hit sends Southeast Missouri State baseball past UT Martin
With two outs and the bases juiced in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday, Chris Osborne stepped to the plate with an opportunity to give the Southeast Missouri State baseball team the lead.
After scoring three runs in the first two innings, the Redhawks hadn't recorded a base hit in five innings, but that didn't faze the hot-hitting Osborne, who patiently waited for something he could snag.
The senior right fielder sent a 1-1 pitch into right to drive in a pair of runs, and Southeast held off a late rally in the final half inning to secure a 5-4 victory over UT Martin at Capaha Field.
With the win, Southeast clinched its first Ohio Valley Conference series of the season, improving to 9-7 overall and 2-3 in league play.
In two games against the Skyhawks, SEMO hitters have drawn a total of 21 walks, 10 of which have come around to score. On Saturday, four of the Redhawks' five runs scored were players who reached on a walk.
"We created a lot of offense with our discipline," Southeast coach Andy Sawyers said. "Just fighting through those at-bats and taking those pitches, I thought that was really the difference for us offensively."
With the game tied at 3-all, Southeast's Kylar Robertson and Danny Wright each drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the eighth, prompting Skyhawks starting pitcher Dalton Westfall to exit the game in favor of reliever Alex Evans. Back-to-back fly outs brought up left fielder Clayton Evans, who drew a walk to load the bases for Osborne.
"When I got up there, I knew he was going to have to come after me, so I was just trying to get the first pitch I could off of him," said Osborne, who finished 3-for-4. "... The first pitch, he threw me a slider, and then he came back with a fastball. So I figured he'd go slider again. He ended up leaving it up just enough for me to get it through the infield."
The Redhawks' two-run lead appeared in jeopardy in the top of the ninth when UTM (7-9, 0-5 OVC) put together a last-chance rally.
Closer Matthew Wade got two quick outs before walking Tyler Albright, who advanced to second when Tanner Wessling was hit by a pitch. That set up pinch hitter Robert Worley, who singled to center to score Albright and move the tying run to third.
Wade recollected himself and recorded the final out on a ground ball that was scooped up by shortstop Connor Basler, who tapped second to end the game on a force out.
"We talk about how it's not about how you start but how you finish. You've got to persevere," Sawyers said. "If he had walked that guy, we had Nate Green cooking because I knew Nate was going to throw it over the plate.
"It's funny how Matt Wade is better with runners on base. It's weird. ... With runners on base, he just takes it to another level."
Wade (2-0) picked up the pitching win after allowing one earned run on one hit in two innings of work. He struck out two batters and walked two.
Clayton Evans drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the first before a single by Osborne and a bunt single by center fielder Dan Holst loaded the bases for first baseman Tristen Gagan, who drew a walk to send Evans across home plate. The next batter, catcher Brian Lees, roped a single into left, scoring Osborne and giving the Redhawks a 2-0 lead.
Southeast took a 3-0 lead in the second when Basler led off with a walk, made his way to third on back-to-back bunt singles by Evans and Osborne and scored on Holst's sacrifice fly to center.
However, Gagan hit into an inning-ending double play, and Westfall settled in for the rest of his outing, allowing only one hit during his final five innings.
The Skyhawks slowly chipped away at their deficit, beginning with a solo home run by shortsop Josh Hauser to lead off the top of the third. UTM trimmed SEMO's lead to 3-2 in the fourth when designated hitter Dan Kerwin sent a two-out RBI single to center.
Starter Justin Murphy allowed Creighton Aldridge to reach on a one-out double in the top of the fifth, which prompted Sawyers to make a tough decision. Murphy, who gave up seven hits and two earned runs in 4 1/3 innings of work, was lifted in favor of reliever Jared Waldhoff.
"They were getting good swings off, and it was one swing away from a ball in the gap. And then we'd be kicking ourselves for not making the move," Sawyers said. "I thought the umpire wasn't calling the low strike especially well. He was fair. It was consistent. It wasn't a bad zone at all, but he wasn't giving a lot of low strikes. So you see the sinker guy having to elevate the ball to get strikes, and that's not a good combination.
"I felt like it was time. It wasn't easy to hook him right there, but I thought it was in the best interest of our team."
Waldhoff didn't yield a hit or a run in 1 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out two. He issued his only walk with two down in the sixth and was replaced by Carlos Vega.
The Skyhawks tied the game at 3-all in the seventh when Connor Aube led off with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, headed to third on a wild pitch and scored on a fielder's choice.
Vega struck out two batters and walked one in 1 1/3 innings of work. He started the eighth but gave up a single to lead off the inning and was replaced by Wade, who walked a batter, struck out a batter and induced an inning-ending double play to retire the side with a runner stranded in scoring position.
"I was pleased with how the bullpen came in and answered the bell," Sawyers said. "They all came in ready to go."
Westfall (2-2), who entered the game with an league-leading ERA of 1.93, threw seven innings and was tagged with the loss on the mound. He gave up five runs -- all earned -- on six hits with six strikeouts and eight walks.
"He's one of the best pitchers in our conference, and we weren't able to just line them up and barrel them and put 15 hits on the board," Sawyers said about Westfall. "Part of the game plan was we really needed to control the bottom of the strike zone. He's got that low-arm slot and a very heavy sinker, and we just needed to work the bottom of the zone. I thought our guys did a fantastic job with that."
The Redhawks will seek a series sweep when the two teams square off again at 1 p.m. today.
Robert Beltran (0-2) is scheduled to take the mound for Southeast. In his last two starts, Beltran has been chased early, combining to allow eight earned runs on 11 hits in 2 1/3 innings of work.
"His entire body of work as a Redhawk has been good, but he needs to perform well for us tomorrow," Sawyers said about Beltran. "We need to get a sweep to kind of get back into the hunt for conference, and he needs to pitch well.
"He's a popular guy with his teammates. They believe in him. They're really rooting hard for him to pitch well tomorrow, so I think you're going to get our very best effort tomorrow. You're going to see a lot of guys in our dugout really pulling hard from him."