Updated: Apr 22, 2022
The Belmont University baseball team kicked off its final Ohio Valley Conference schedule in a three-game home series against Austin Peay State University over the weekend.
Winning their first game Friday at E.S. Rose Park, the Bruins fell short in a close matchup Saturday but quickly rebounded in Sunday’s contest to secure the at-home stretch.
Hitting the ball effectively, the Bruins recorded a home run in all three games, each from a different player. Designated hitter Tommy Crider sent it on Friday, first baseman Brodey Heaton on Saturday and infielder Grayson Taylor on Sunday.
“We’re in a good spot right now. We’re competing, just trying to do the little things right and do everything we can to win every game,” Heaton said.
Closing pitcher Kyle Brennan also recorded his 27th career save on Sunday to become the all-time program leader in the category. Brennan currently leads the NCAA with 10 saves this season.
The action began on a chilly afternoon where the Bruins found themselves down by an 0-2 score early in the first inning with junior pitcher Joshua South on the hill.
Quickly responding to the pressure, however, South struck out the next two batters to retire the side.
The Belmont bats came alive in the bottom of the first with five hits and four runs to take the lead, 4-2.
After sharp fielding from both sides in the second, the offenses began cooking again in the third.
Austin Peay’s TJ Foreman hit a solo home run in the top of the inning, the Governors’ second of the game, which narrowed Belmont’s lead to 4-3.
But the Bruins responded with a two-run homer from Crider in the bottom of the inning to put Belmont further ahead.
“I would say I’m happy with what I’ve done so far,” Crider said. “I think we’ve done a good job of scoring a lot of runs. We’ve done a good job of situational hitting; when we got guys on third with less than two, we’re getting them in.”
Continuing that situational success, the Bruins scored again in the fifth with a sacrifice fly from senior third baseman Logan Jarvis, driving in sophomore outfielder Guy Lipscomb.
In Jarvis’ next at-bat, bottom of seventh, he hit an RBI single up the middle to drive in Lipscomb once again for an 8-3 lead.
The Governors scored another run in the eighth but were unable to produce a comeback, and the Bruins won 8-4 to open their series.
Belmont pitching coach and former Austin Peay player A.J. Gaura was pleased with what he saw in Friday’s contest.
“I’ll take a win on a Friday anytime,” Gaura said. “This is the first time I beat Austin Peay since I’ve left as a player. I was 0-2 at Evansville against them, so that’s my first win against Austin Peay as a coach, which is awesome.”
Of Gaura’s pitchers, South had an impressive game with six strikeouts in his 5.2 innings, earning him the win and tallying his season record to 3-1.
Sophomore closing pitcher Will Jenkins also added power to the mound, striking out three batters for the save in his 1.1 inning pitched.
Offensively, Lipscomb batted 3-3, scored four runs and stole two bases. The sophomore standout is currently ranked third in stolen bases in NCAA Division I baseball.
After a strong start in its conference opener, Belmont looked to continue its momentum heading into Saturday’s windy game.
Down by one in the bottom of the first, Heaton drove a two-run homer over the left field fence to put the Bruins up 2-1.
Austin Peay responded, however, in the top of the second with a single to left field from Gino Avros, who batted in two runs on the play to put the Governors ahead 2-3.
The Bruins evened the score in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single to right field from graduate student Sam Hedges, driving in sophomore Jack Rando.
After a defensive third inning, offenses picked back up in the fourth with an Austin Peay solo home run from Harrison Brown, placing the lead back in the Governors’ favor 3-4.
But the Bruins reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the fifth after a sacrifice fly from Heaton to drive in junior Carson Shacklett and an RBI double from Crider to drive in Jarvis.
Scoring ceased in the sixth, but the Governors tied the game back up 5-all with an RBI double from Jack Alexander to drive in Foreman.
The Bruins responded again with another RBI from Crider, retaking the lead 6-5.
“I’d say, personally, just getting the pitches that I can handle and not swinging at pitches out of the zone has helped me,” Crider said of his offensive success.
Austin Peay did not slow though, producing three runs in the top of the eighth to take back the lead 6-8.
The Bruins attempted a comeback in the bottom of the inning after an RBI double by junior John Behrends, making it a one-run game.
But the scoring halted for the remainder of play, ending in a Governors’ 8-7 victory.
Offensive standouts were Heaton, who hit 2-4, three RBIs and a home run, and Crider, who hit 2-5 with two RBIs. On the mound, sophomore Andy Bean pitched a solid game, striking out four in his six innings.
Looking to close out the weekend series with a win, the Bruins were ready to wreak havoc upon the Governors in Sunday’s contest.
Starting on the hill was sophomore Jalen Borders, who pitched for six shutout innings, allowed just three hits and recorded three strikeouts.
Following impressive defensive play for the Bruins, including a double play in both the first and second innings, Belmont took to the scoreboard in the third with a sacrifice fly from Rando to drive in Hedges.
After a Taylor to Rando to Heaton double play in the top of the fifth, the Bruins scored again in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single from Behrends to bring the score up 2-0.
The inning wasn’t over, however, as Heaton reached on error and advanced to second as Shacklett scored.
The Bruins found more offensive success in the sixth.
Taylor stepped up to the plate to deliver a two-run homer over the left-center field fence, furthering the lead 5-0.
The Governors responded in the top of the seventh with a two-RBI double from Tyler Delong.
After another Austin Peay run in the eighth, the Bruins comebatted with a Taylor double to advance Hedges to third.
Thanks to a bouncing pitch that got away from the Governors’ catcher, Hedges stole his way home to provide the Bruins a comfortable 6-3 lead.
The Governors scored another run in the ninth, but after a ground-out from Foreman, the Bruins successfully secured the win as Brennan recorded his 27th career save, his 10th of the season, to rewrite the Belmont record books and climb to the top of the NCAA standings.
The Bruins won 6-4.
Standing out in this game was Taylor, who went 3-4 with two runs, two RBIs and a home run.
After coming out on top in its first conference series of the season, Belmont will now travel to OVC opponent Murray State University for a three-game series Friday through Sunday.
The Bruins currently hold an overall 16-9 record and stand at third in the conference behind Eastern Illinois University and Southeast Missouri State University.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in this team. I don’t see any reason why we can’t win a championship,” Crider said.
PHOTO: No. 7 Andy Bean pitching against Austin Peay on Saturday. Sarah Maninger / Belmont Vision
This article was written by A.J. Wuest. Contributory reporting by Camden Morris.