Beltran bounces back in Southeast Missouri State baseball team's win over UT Martin
His teammates had his back, and he was determined to prove himself.
It was exactly the kind of start Robert Beltran needed.
After getting chased early in his last two starts, the senior pitcher returned to the mound Sunday and threw six solid innings, leading the Southeast Missouri State baseball team to a 13-4 victory that secured an Ohio Valley Conference series sweep of UT Martin at Capaha Field.
Beltran allowed two earned runs on six hits and had five strikeouts and two walks, while the Redhawks' offense did its part, tallying 15 hits.
"The best version of us is to have him starting on the weekends, and we needed him to be good," Southeast coach Andy Sawyers said about Beltran. "It was great to see him pitch like himself."
Beltran was chased early during that dreaded two-game span, watching his ERA balloon from 4.35 to 9.24 in 2 1/3 combined innings. He gave up eight earned runs on 11 hits, including five of the extra-base variety.
There was no one wearing red happier with Sunday's results than Beltran himself, who turned in his first quality start of the year and dropped his ERA to 7.23.
"It was huge. My last two starts were pretty rough," said Beltran, a preseason All-OVC selection. "The coaches were behind me. They gave me an opportunity. I just kept fighting and just kept working."
Southeast (10-7, 3-3 OVC) had five different players record multiple hits, including a 2-for-3 performance from Tristen Gagan. The junior first baseman capped a four-run first inning for the Redhawks when he blasted a two-run home run, sending the ball bouncing off the batter's eye in dead center to give the hosts a 4-1 advantage.
"Whenever it came off the bat, I thought I had hit it well, but I didn't know it was going to go that far and do what it did," Gagan said.
Southeast got things started in the bottom of the first when left fielder Clayton Evans led off with a single and swiped second. Right fielder Chris Osborne plated Evans with a triple deep in the left-center gap, and center fielder Dan Holst followed with an RBI single to give the Redhawks an early 2-1 lead.
In the three-game series against UTM (7-10, 0-6), Southeast scored a total of 32 runs, 44 percent of which were scored in the first two innings alone (14).
"That's how you plan on every game going," Gagan said about the fast starts. "That's the way you've got to wake up in the morning because it just gets all the momentum on your side. Whenever you get four consecutive hits like that, you've got all the momentum, and your pitcher can go out there and just do his thing and not have to worry."
In the top of the first, center fielder Connor Aube led off with a double to left before stealing third and scoring on an RBI groundout by right fielder Tanner Wessling, giving the Skyhawks a 1-0 lead.
Wessling's groundout, however, was the first of seven straight batters retired by the lefty Beltran (1-2).
"We knew he had his stuff," Gagan said about Beltran. "We knew he was going through a little bit of a tough time, but seeing him go out there and do what he did today ... it was awesome to play behind. He was locked in. The defense was locked in behind him.
"That was the best part of the day, just seeing him go out there and do what he does."
Holst, who finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs, singled up the middle, stole second and reached third on an error before scoring on a sacrifice fly by Gagan, pushing SEMO's lead to 5-1 in the third.
Wessling singled to lead off the fourth before moving to second on a single by catcher Keylen Steen and scoring on an RBI single by Ryan Helgren. But the Redhawks responded with a two-out single by Osborne that drove in a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame, extending the lead to 7-2.
Then in the fifth, Southeast began to impose its will.
Reliever Alex Evans replaced starter Kyle Laberge to begin the inning for UTM, as Gagan got things going with a double to left. Catcher Brian Lees followed with an RBI double to right before designated hitter Kylar Robertson lifted a two-run shot to left. With the bases loaded and two down, Holst drove in two more with a base hit to left, giving the Redhawks a comfortable 12-2 advantage.
Osborne finished 3-for-5, improving his batting average to .355 on the season, while freshman Danny Wright added a pair of hits, including an RBI single in the sixth that allowed the Redhawks to build a 13-2 lead. Wright, who's been filling in at second base due to an injury to Trevor Ezell, is also hitting .355.
Freshman shortstop Connor Basler added a pair of hits in the No. 9 spot, upping his average to .320.
"The guys at the top of the order have been playing well," Sawyers said. "Clayton Evans has been on base all year, but [Osborne] has kind of gotten it going. His batting average has been raised by over 200 points. We put him in the 2-hole, so he was up early in the first. And then [Holst has] been hotter than a two-dollar pistol for the last month. Tristen had a good weekend.
"I just thought our guys were good."
Redshirt freshman Chase Hagerty pitched two innings of relief, holding the Skyhawks scoreless in the seventh before encountering a rough patch in the eighth. He walked two batters and hit one before a double-play groundout by Steen and an RBI single by Helgren capped the scoring.
"I thought he was really good in the seventh, and then in the eighth, it was like, 'Oh, it's a blowout. I'm just going to come in and throw.' And he wasn't focused, and he wasn't sharp," Sawyers said about Hagerty. "I just encouraged him to treat that like an audition and understand the difference between the guy who is ready for primetime and the guy who isn't.
"A lot of times, it's just mindset and your ability to focus and concentrate. I just wanted to see him stay focused. ... We haven't been able to play a lot of mid-weeks, so some of those innings haven't been easily coming for some of those guys. But we have some guys that we like in the bullpen and are just trying to find them innings and give them opportunities to be successful. It's been a little bit of a challenge for me."
Hagerty gave up two earned runs on two hits with three walks in his two innings of work. He was replaced in the ninth by Ryan Losman, who scattered a hit but struck out the side.
Laberge (0-1) took the loss on the mound in four innings of work. He allowed seven runs -- six earned -- on eight hits with two strikeouts and one walk.
Alex Evans threw an inning of relief, giving up five earned runs on five hits, and Winston Cannon yielded an earned run in two innings of work. Peyton Cain pitched a scoreless eighth for the Skyhawks.
UTM was led at the plate by Aube and Helgren, who each finished with three hits.
Southeast returns to action at 6 p.m. Tuesday against host Central Arkansas before traveling north to SIU-Edwardsville for a three-game series over the weekend.
"Obviously you always want to win, but you can't control the wins and losses sometimes," Sawyers said. "I just thought we played better baseball this week, and that was the emphasis -- to be more fundamental and play cleaner. And they did it.
"Now we've got a chance to go on the road and see if we can do it in somebody else's ball park."