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No. 1 Middle Tennessee bounces back

A solid pitching performance from Chad Edwards and timely execution at the plate gave Middle Tennessee a 12-7 win over Florida Atlantic on Friday morning and another chance to advance to the title round of the 2009 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship.

The top-seeded Blue Raiders put the ball in play when it counted most—with runners in scoring position. Six different Raiders collected at least one RBI, and the team racked up 14 hits, seven for extra bases. Blake McDade led the way, going 2-for-4 from the plate with two RBI. Mike Albaladejo boasted three hits and walked twice to reach base in each of his five at-bats for the Owls, but he was only brought home once.

As Middle Tennessee continued to gradually add runs to its total, Edwards held the FAU offense back. He gave up just three runs—all in the third inning—and scattered seven hits to keep the Owls’ bats quiet. Edwards threw 114 pitches in six innings to earn the win, fanning six batters and walking only two.

The Blue Raiders showed patience, waiting out five walks from the FAU pitching staff, and two Middle Tennessee runs came as direct results of Owl errors. With the victory, the Blue Raiders improved to 40-16 on the season.

Starter Adam Morrison took the loss for Florida Atlantic as he gave up six runs—three earned—on six hits, exiting the game after three innings.

Middle Tennessee lit up the scoreboard for four runs in the first inning to jump to an early lead. Grant Box walked to give the Blue Raiders their first baserunner, and the following three batters all reached the bags also. Box advanced to third first on a single from Bryce Brentz and a fielder’s choice from Rawley Bishop. He scored the game’s first run as FAU third baseman Sean Bukovich misplaced an attempted putout.

Doubles from Ben Darlington and Drew Robertson highlighted the remainder of the first inning as the Blue Raiders set the tone and put the pressure on the Owls.

Florida Atlantic answered the call in the third inning, kicking off the frame with three straight singles to load the bases. An RBI-groundout from David Wilson and an Albaladejo double that drove in two runs cut the deficit to one.

But Middle Tennessee continued to connect on hits and bring runners across home plate. The Blue Raiders added three more runs through the fourth and fifth innings, and Zach Dean belted a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the seventh to push the lead up to six and give Middle Tennessee some room to work with.

The Owls tallied two runs with two outs in the eight inning, but they couldn’t keep the offense going long enough to generate a rally and were eliminated from the tournament.

The Blue Raiders will move on to a rematch against Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The Cajuns handed Middle Tennessee a 14-11 loss on Thursday afternoon at Riddle-Pace Field.