TROY, Ala.—Given an extra day to rest due to the rain at that marred the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, Middle Tennessee's Kenneth Roberts pitched a gem for the top-seeded Blue Raiders as they ended seventh-seeded ULM's Cinderella run through the tournament 3-1.
"I'm really proud of them," ULM head coach Jeff Schexnaider said. "What they did this week was really unbelievable and a tribute to our team and the senior leadership we had. We played well, but just left a couple of runners on base. We had some opportunities early and against a good team like Middle Tennessee you have to take advantage of the chances you get."
The Warhawks had won four straight games heading into the championship game at Troy's Riddle-Pace Field. ULM dropped the opener to Western Kentucky on Wednesday and then defeated sixth-seeded South Alabama, third-seeded Troy and second-seeded WKU twice to advance to the title game.
Roberts, who threw 95 pitches in a seven-inning complete game against Florida Atlantic on Wednesday, held the Warhawks to just one hit through the first five innings of the game and four in his six innings of work. The first-team all-conference selection and Tournament MVP struck out five ULM batters and issued no free passes.
The one early hit was a double off the right-field wall by Ben Soignier tying him with Willie Core for the all-time ULM hits lead with 296. The senior All-American finishes his career as the school's all-time leader in hits, total bases and doubles. He will finish ranked second in runs scored, third in home runs, RBIs and walks and fourth in stolen bases and batting average.
ULM finishes its season 31-27 overall marking the 14th season in school history with 30 or more wins and second in three years under Schexnaider. Middle Tennessee moves to 43-16 and receives the Sun Belt Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Against All-Sun Belt closer Coty Woods, the Warhawks were able to load the bases with two outs in the eighth inning. Smith drew a walk, Boomer Blanchard singled and Soignier was hit by a pitch. Woods got behind Matt Collins 2-0, but battled back to get a grounder to second to end the threat.
Woods picked up his 14th save of the season scattering two hits over three innings. He struck out six batters and walked one.
The Blue Raiders were able to scratch three runs across the plate in the third inning off Jordy Poche. Following an out, the next two Blue Raiders drew walks and then Nathan Hines singled through the right side of the infield for the first run of the game. Sun Belt Player of the Year Bryce Brentz singled through the left side for the second run and Zach Dean singled to right for the final run of the inning and game for MTSU.
ULM had a prime opportunity to take hold of the game in the opening frame with runners in scoring position and nobody out. Blanchard led off the game reaching on an error and Soignier doubled, but Roberts struck out two consecutive batters to end the inning.
The Warhawks got on the board in the bottom of the sixth inning on an RBI single by Jon Prevost. Smith scored on the play after setting the Sun Belt Conference Tournament record with his sixth double of the week. Following the second out of the inning, Collins lined a ball to right field, but was thrown out at second base by right fielder Zach Hudson trying to stretch it into a double.
Poche (2-7) took the loss for the Warhawks allowing three runs on six hits in 3.2 innings of work. The sophomore walked four batters and struck out two. Josh Miller held the Blue Raiders in check over 4.1 innings allowing just two hits and no runs.