NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Belmont baseball fell short of the series sweep Saturday afternoon, dropping a 7-3 decision to Eastern Illinois in game three at E.S. Rose Park.
The Bruins (16-18, 11-7) bats went cold after dominating at the plate in their first two matchups against the Panthers, despite compiling nine hits they struggled to convert runs leaving 10 runners on base. Senior Nick Egli (Brentwood, Tenn.) was the sole Bruin to register multiple hits with seven others registering one.
After relinquishing a leadoff home run and allowing the first three Panthers he faced to reach base, starting hurler Connor Etheridge (Springfield, Ill.) got out of the frame with minimal damage done by fanning the next three batters in the opening stanza. The solo shot that gave Eastern Illinois (8-27, 4-11) its first lead of the series was launched by Joseph Duncan.
Belmont evened the game in the home half of the first with a pair of singles and a walk allowing them to load the bases. Junior Rafael Bournigal (Mulberry, Fla.) and Egli continued to dominate at the plate against the Panthers, each starting the game with a base knock. With Bruins residing on all three bases and no one down, redshirt-freshman Matt Cogen (Franklin, Tenn.) grounded into a double play that allowed the tying run to score.
Eastern Illinois reclaimed the lead in the next frame – piecing together a single and walk to get on first and second before a sacrifice bunt would allow the runners to advance and threaten for the second time. Duncan then collected his second RBI on a groundout to shortstop putting EIU up, 2-1. The Panthers used another leadoff dinger in the fourth to tack on their third run, this one coming from Josh Turnock.
Egli remained perfect at the plate in his 11th at bat of the series by wearing a pitch to the back and getting on with no one down. Belmont went on to load the bases once agian on a base shot from Cogen and another hit-by-pitch issued to senior Tyler Walsh (Evansville, Ind.). The Bruins then plated a pair of runs to tie the game, 3-3, in the home half of the fourth. Senior Drake Byrd (Pigeon Forge, Tenn.) laced a single to right field for the first run and junior Ben Kocher (Zionsville, Ind.) knotted it up on a RBI groundout to shortstop.
A couple of walks and wild pitches dealt by Etheridge proved costly in the fifth as the Panthers took the lead, 5-3, for the third time with a pair of runs. The Bruins dipped into their bullpen and brought out sophomore Casey Queener (Brentwood, Tenn.) to inherit runners on the corners with just one out in their favor. A sacrifice fly and two-bagger scored the runs with both being credited to Etheridge.
Walsh registered his first hit of the day in the home half of the sixth, delivering a two-out single to centerfield. The veteran then robbed his 55th base in his four-year career to move second all-time in stolen bases in the Belmont baseball record books. The Evansville, Indiana product would end up being stranded at second as BU posted its third scoreless frame.
The Bruins struggled at the plate for the first time in the three-game series, compiling six hits through the first seven frames. While they searched for an answer, sophomore Kyle Klotz (Fairview, Tenn.) came in to relieve Queener and quieted the Panthers bats. The righty kept EIU scoreless for 1.1 innings, until relinquishing a run in the top of the eighth as the Panthers doubled their advantage, 6-3.
For the third time on the day Eastern Illinois launched a leadoff homer for an insurance run to extend their lead, 7-3, in the top of the ninth. Matt Albert sent the dinger over the left field fence, solidifying the Panthers win and robbing Belmont of the series sweep.
The Bruins head to Southern Illinois for a midweek clash with the Salukis on Tuesday, April 18. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Itchy Jones Stadium.