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MTSU continues streak, punches title game ticket

Middle Tennessee won its third straight game, defeating Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns, 6-2, on Saturday afternoon to earn a trip to the title game in the 2009 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship.

After dropping a 14-11 decision to the Cajuns on Thursday, the Blue Raiders needed to win out the rest of their games in order to compete in the championship contest. And they rose to the challenge, knocking out Florida Atlantic and taking down Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday before handing the Cajuns their second loss Saturday to eliminate them from the tournament.

The top-seeded Blue Raiders picked up where they had left off in Friday night’s 17-8 rout when they had gathered steam in the later innings. They carried that momentum into Saturday’s contest, attacking the Cajuns with three runs in the opening inning to take a lead they never gave up.

But Middle Tennessee used a different style to push runs across the plate Saturday. While the Blue Raiders showed off their power hitting in Friday’s game with 11 of their 17 hits going for extra bases, they played the short ball to their advantage in Saturday’s showdown. Of their 10 hits, they connected on eight singles and cashed in on sacrifice plays to outscore the Cajuns.

Bryce Brentz continued his impressive play, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. The All-American also pulled double-duty, moving out of left field to record the final six outs from the mound. Stuart Meinhart added two hits and two RBI for Middle Tennessee, and Drew Robertson also recorded multiple hits

Blue Raiders starter Chad Coley held the Cajuns to one hit and two runs in 2.1 innings to earn the win, but Middle Tennessee turned to its bullpen after Coley gave up three straight walks. The four relievers combined for 6.2 scoreless innings and gave up just three hits.

Louisiana’s Greg Wilborn took the loss for the Cajuns, giving up six runs—just two earned—on seven hits in 2.2 innings.

Three Middle Tennessee batters reached base to lead off the game for the Blue Raiders. Nathan Hines took first base on an error and Stuart Meinhart and Bryce Brentz followed with consecutive singles to advance and score the lead runner. Meinhart scored off an RBI-groundout from Grant Box, and Brentz crossed the plate on a passed ball.

The Blue Raiders added two more runs on three hits in the second inning courtesy of a single to left field from Meinhart.

The Cajuns scored their only two runs of the game in the top of the third inning, taking advantage of mislocation from Coley. Coley allowed a base hit from Thad Griffen, then walked three straight batters to force in a run. The Cajuns tallied the second score on a sacrifice fly from Chad Keefer that brought in Kyle Olasin.

But solid pitching combined with nearly flawless defense from the Blue Raiders proved too much for the Cajuns to overcome. Meinhart made a strong throw from deep right field to second base to rob Greg Fontenot of a double and end the sixth inning, and Middle Tennessee retired eight of the next nine batters to seal a spot in the championship.

The Blue Raiders will face ULM for the conference crown Sunday at 10 a.m.