JACKSON, Tenn — Austin Peay took the field at The Ballpark, home of the Jackson Generals, on Thursday, May 23 in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, taking on the Eastern Kentucky.
After watching two upsets in the opening round of the tournament, the number two seed Governors would not allow a third upset to occur, as APSU took down the Colonels 13-4 led by a red hot offense.
The Govs totaled 17 hits in the game compared to EKU’s nine, which is the thirteenth consecutive game APSU has had ten-plus hits.
Leading the way for the Govs was senior shortstop Reed Harper, who was four-for-five with two RBIs on Thursday. Not only did Harper lead his team to a tournament win, but also became the all-time hits leader in APSU history with 277, passing 2012 alum Greg Bachman.
Harper is now on a nine game hitting streak, making a stride late in the season that he is now bringing over to the tournament.
“When you start feeling good, things just seem to fall into place. You try to find something that feels right and build on it,” Harper said. “Things are falling in when I don’t hit it hard or when I do hit it hard, so it’s fun right now. Earlier there was a stretch during the season where it felt like there wasn’t a hole out there, but now I feel like there’s nobody playing defense. Hopefully things keep going the way they have been.”
“I loved our mentality going into the game today,” the senior added. “We responded really well after going down 2-0 to start that game. We’re going to have to bring it tomorrow night regardless of who we play.”
Head coach Gary McClure decided to go with left-hander Zach Hall to pitch the opening game for the Govs, and worked well on the mound. The junior earned his fourth-straight win, allowing just three runs, one earned, on six hits and six strikeouts.
The Colonels struck first in the opening inning of Hall, forcing APSU second baseman Brett Carlson to commit a fielding and throwing error to put a runner on second. EKU catcher Sean Hagen doubled down the left field line, scoring Doug Teegarden on the play. After a strikeout by Shaun Ball, Bryan Soloman singled home Hagen, taking a 2-0 lead.
With two outs in the bottom of the first, Craig Massoni drew a walk and advanced to third on a single by Harper. Massoni would score on a wild pitch by EKU starter Myles Scott, putting the Govs on the board. ASPU loaded the bases in the same inning off a four pitch walk to Cody Hudson and single by Michael Davis, but a strikeout by P.J. Torres would end the frame.
After Hall shut down EKU in the top of the second, the Govs took the lead 3-2 in the bottom half after Massoni hit a ball to the third baseman Teegarden, who couldn’t stop it and allowed two runs to score.
Hall sat down the Colonels with three-straight outs in the third, and gave the offense a chance to score again. Hudson singled and stole his 30th base of the season, and was brought home on a double by Davis, putting the Govs up 4-2.
Davis has embraced the designated hitter role for the Govs after three home runs late in the season, and was three-for-four with two RBIs in his first OVC tourney game, with no jitters shown.
“I personally was just ready to get out there,” Davis said. “We got here two days ago and have kinda been cooped up, so I was just ready to go.”
EKU loaded the bases in the following inning with two singles and a walk, but Hall worked out of the jam to force Kyle Nowlin to ground out, leaving the runners stranded.
In the bottom of the fifth, Harper singled to right field, which broke the all-time hits record. Torres brought home Harper with a single, then Rolando Gautier walked with the bases loaded to score Torres. With the bases still loaded, Jordan Hankins delivered with a two RBI double. To add to the big inning, Harper drove home another two runs with a single, increasing the APSU lead to eight runs.
The bats continued to stay hot off the EKU pitchers, as Davis hit a solo home run to left field in the sixth, and in the seventh, Massoni hit a shot over the center field wall to increase his total to 16 on the season.
The Colonels tacked on a run in the top of the eighth, and another in the ninth, but was unable to make a historic comeback.
APSU will be back in action tomorrow, May 24 at 7:00 p.m. to take on the winner of Tennessee Tech and Southeast Missouri. On the mound for the Govs will be Casey Delgado, who has been APSU’s most consistent pitcher over the course of the season.
Photo: Zach Hall (Corey Adams/The All State)