For the third consecutive season, the Austin Peay Governors were crowned Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Champions with a 6-3 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, May 25.
Head coach Gary McClure has led his team along the rough road to capture his third trophy in three years, and is proud of this group for being the best team in terms of record in his 26 years of coaching.
“The whole year wasn’t perfect, but these guys made it really special. For themselves, for me, their parents, and everybody associated with Austin Peay baseball,” McClure said.
“This is something you don’t even think about happening. A bunch of these guys have won three championships in a row. They have such a business-like approach, yet they have fun playing the game. They become more and more fun to coach as the years go on.”
One of the many upperclassmen who have been along for the historic ride is senior shortstop Reed Harper, who was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
In the three tournament games, Harper was 6 for 13 at the plate with seven RBIs, including a three-run home run in the championship game. Even though the Govs have competed in tough tournaments over the years, Harper says this is the most difficult one of his career.
“(We) had that bulls eye on our back, but luckily we had the guys on this team that really stepped up to the challenge,” Harper said. “The best way to describe this team is we got a lot of individuals who want to prove they’re the best player on the field every night, and normally when you have that team, it doesn’t work. But we want to prove that, plus play as a team, and it’s real special to play with this group of guys.”
Harper, along with Craig Massoni, Jordan Hankins, Cody Hudson, and Michael Davis were named to the all-tournament team for the Govs, voted on by the media.
The win increased the nation’s longest current winning streak to 15 games, but wasn’t an easy task against a Eastern Kentucky team who had success making a run through the field.
APSU starter Ryan Quick walked the first batter he faced to begin the game, which set the Colonels up to strike first. Bryan Soloman doubled with the bases loaded to score two runs, and was followed with a RBI sacrifice fly by Alex Hughes to put Eastern Kentucky up 3-0.
The Govs answered back by putting two runners on, which allowed Harper to come through with a three-run homer over the tallest wall at The Ballpark in left field, tying the game at three runs a piece.
Eastern Kentucky loaded the bases in the top of the second, but Quick worked out of the jam by forcing Shaun Ball to fly out to center field to end the half inning.
Hankins added another run for the Govs to take the lead in the bottom of the frame with a RBI single that brought home Brett Carlson.
After a scoreless third inning, the Colonels threatened with two outs by putting two men on in the fourth. This forced McClure to make a pitching change, bringing in junior Lee Ridenhour. Ridenhour, who hasn’t pitched since April 26th, worked out of the inning by striking out Sean Hagen.
Hankins came through with his second RBI of the game in the sixth, driving in Carlson again to put the Govs up 5-3. Kacy Kemmer came on in relief for APSU in the seventh and allowed just one hit in his two innings of work.
Dylan Riner added an insurance run in the eighth with a double to left field to bring home Tommy Hager, increasing the margin to three runs.
In the ninth, APSU turned to their senior closer Tyler Rogers to finish the game, and earned his 21st save of the season. The save breaks the all-time OVC mark, as the righthander now has 33 in his career.
With the win, the Govs will earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Regional. The selection show will be on Monday, May 27, with the tournament beginning on Thursday, May 30 in a location and opponent to be determined.
Photo: Tyler Rogers (Corey Adams/The All State)