Some notes as the Toppers head into the last five weeks of the baseball season:
– Sophomore catcher Matt Rice went 5-for-13 in last weekend’s sweep of New Orleans, extending his hitting streak to 29 games, a Western record. If the streak continues, he could match the Sun Belt Conference record of 34 games in next Wednesday’s game against Eastern Kentucky and break it at home against Florida Atlantic on April 24.
A few weeks ago, coach Chris Finwood said, “We’ve always known Matt Rice would be a good hitter– he just needs to get his at-bats.” So far, Rice has the most at-bats on the team (141), and he’s made the most of them. He’s got a team-best .418 batting average and 59 hits, with 20 of those being extra-base hits.
– Though Middle Tennessee State is projected to finish eighth in the SBC, the Blue Raiders are sitting at 13-5 in the conference, a game and a half behind Western. MTSU closes the season with series against Louisiana Monroe (fourth), at South Alabama (ninth), and at Troy (third) before hosting a season-ending series against Western.
The Toppers, on the other hand, will travel to Arkansas State (seventh), then face Florida Atlantic (eighth) and Arkansas-Little Rock (10th) at home before going to Murfreesboro.
When senior shortstop Terrence Dayleg and junior third baseman Wade Gaynor were asked about a series that they had circled on their schedules, Dayleg started to answer, but Gaynor grinned and said, “No, I got this one. (Junior pitcher) Matt Ridings and I were just talking about this.”
He mentioned the MTSU series before saying that the team has to take care of business in the three series before they meet the Blue Raiders.
“We have nine games coming up, our next three series, where we feel very confident going in,” he said. “Those are really important.”
Dayleg downplayed the importance of individual games or series, saying no fewer than six times that “every game counts”.
But Finwood mentioned the Blue Raiders as well: “Of course you never know what can happen, but the way it’s shaping up, looks like that last weekend at Middle’s going to be a big one, which is great. They’ve got a heck of a ball club, and good thing, so do we. I like our chances.”
– The Toppers are now 20-1 at Nick Denes Field, with the only loss coming on March 3 to Belmont. They’ve won seven straight SBC series at home, and ten straight home series overall.
“We really do take pride in winning at home, just because it’s our place,” Gaynor said.
Junior first baseman Jake Wells said a few weeks ago that the team is “used to the scenery” at the Nick because they play there throughout the fall, as well as practicing there in January before the season begins.
“When other teams come in, they see how well we’re playing at home,” he said. “There’s maybe sort of an intimidation factor when they come to our place, which helps us a lot.”