Blue Raiders win Sun Belt opener

Middle Tennessee third baseman Tyler Burnett played the hero once again as the Blue Raiders downed the Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe 5-4 in 11innings tonight.

The Blue Raiders improve to 9-4 on the season in their first conference victory of 2010.

Burnett was an easy choice for player-of-the-game after his 3-for-5 effort was responsible for three of Middle Tennessee‘s five runs. After hitting a go-ahead two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, he knocked in the winning run with a double in the bottom of the 11th inning.

Blue Raider starter Kenny Roberts also had a solid game, going 8 2/3 innings giving up four earned runs on six hits and striking out four compared to one free pass. Unfortunately, his effort didn't factor into the decision. Instead, reliever Nick Montgomery earned his fourth win of the season with a nearly perfect 2 1/3 innings of relief.

"What it boiled down to was two great starting pitchers going against each other," Blue Raider head coach Steve Peterson said during his post game interview.

That statement is certainly valid when fans take a look at Warhawk starter James Jones's numbers for the game: eight innings, three earned runs and eight strikeouts to three walks.

"Jones has a good fastball," Peterson says of tonight's opposing starter. "He was throwing in the ‘90's tonight. He was throwing a slider and mixed a changeup in there, too."

Peterson would go on to explain that this Middle Tennessee team is different than the championship team from 2009. The aggressive approach of this team leads to a feast-or-famine type of production at the plate.

"We had some ballplayers last year that would show the guys how to take a pitch or foul off a few balls and we just don't have that this year," Peterson says. "We've got the ability to beat up middle-of-the-road pitching, but we got lucky against Jones tonight."

Peterson expands on his view of leadership and cites Burnett as a good example. While many fans might not notice the small nuances of the game and the adjustments made in between each, the coaches and players do. Burnett's adjustment between the last game was a pure demonstration of leadership in Peterson's eyes.

"If you watched him play against Tennessee, he didn't swing the bat real good and I told him he was playing the flags more than anything," Peterson remarks on Burnett's attempts to use the outfield-bound wind to try to drive one out of the park.

"He had some selfish at-bats against Tennessee, but today he stayed on the ball and got the barrel on it whereas I think two or three days ago he wraps around it and flies out. He went with the pitch and like I said, if you‘re going to be a good hitter you have to be able to adjust. Just see what the pitcher‘s doing and adjust to certain situations."

Hopefully Burnett's ability to adjust between games will rub off on his teammates, who combined for a total of six hits in the game in addition to the three Burnett contributed to the effort. Regardless, the squad will celebrate a big victory tonight and come in ready to play tomorrow.

"Some people don't like to talk about winning championships, but that's all we talk about," Peterson says. "We look at a 30 game schedule and the first game is as important as the 30th game. Hopefully our team takes this game to heart and learns from it because there's going to be more like it. The Sun Belt has got some really good Friday night pitchers. There's 29 games left though, so you're happy you won it and that the guy slid in safe at home. So we're going to celebrate, but we're coming in tomorrow and it's number two tomorrow."

The Blue Raiders continue their series against Louisiana-Monroe tomorrow at 4 p.m.

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