NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Junior hurler Tyler Vaughn (Jonesboro, Ill.) carried Belmont baseball through the first seven frames, striking out a career-best 11 batters against Morehead State Friday night at E.S. Rose Park. However, despite Vaughn's dazzling performance on the hill the Bruins were edged by the Eagles, 4-3, behind a three-run eighth frame.
A pitcher's duel ensued from the very beginning and carried through for the first seven stanzas as both Vaughn and MSU's starting pitcher, Aaron Leasher, combined for 17 strikeouts. Vaughn proved to be poised from the get go. He gave up a walk and a pair of hits in the opening two frames before sitting down seven straight, including forcing five consecutive Eagles to go down swinging. The Jonesboro, Illinois product gave up a solo shot from Braxton Morris over the left field fence to give Morehead State its first lead of the day in the second. The Eagles followed up with a double, but the right-hander settled in and halted their hopes of tacking on any more runs. Morehead State held the 1-0 advantage after two.
The Bruins found a way to threaten early, but left runners in scoring position twice before they were finally able to convert in the third and knot the game up 1-1. Junior infielder Kyle Conger (Brentwood, Tenn.) and redshirt-freshman outfielder Matt Cogen (Franklin, Tenn.) teamed up for a pair of base knocks to put runners on the corners with one down. Senior designated hitter Nick Egli (Brentwood, Tenn.) then stepped to the plate and fired a bullet to Morehead State's shortstop, Reid Leonard. The Eagles attempted to record the double play, but an early start from Cogen allowed him to make it to second before the throw - allowing Conger to reach home and notch the tying run. Egli collected the RBI despite being thrown out at first to give the squad a fresh start.
For the next four innings, Vaughn and Leasher would collectively sit down 28 of the next 30 batters. Vaughn retired 16 of the 17 Eagles he faced during that span with eight of them coming in the form of a strikeout. The only Eagle that reached base was a freebie from Vaughn himself – one of two walks he issued all night. In similar fashion, Leasher sent 12 of the 13 Bruins he faced back to the dugout. The only Bruin Leasher couldn't shake was junior infielder Ben Kocher (Zionsville, Ind.) who gave Belmont the 2-1 lead with a long ball over the left field barrier in the home half of the sixth.
It wasn't until the eighth that Morehead State could find an answer for Vaughn. After starting the frame by registering his lifetime-best 11th K of the day, a couple of Eagles were able to connect on back-to-back hits. With runners perched on the corners, head coach Dave Jarvis called on closer Dom Veltri (Clarksville, Tenn.) to wrap up the final 1.2 innings. Morehead State continued to ride on the momentum against Veltri, bringing in three consecutive runs to take a 4-2 lead.
Sophomore infielder Hunter Holland (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) replaced Rafael Bournigal (Mulberry, Fla.) at second in the eighth and made the most of his first plate appearance. Holland laced a single up the middle to tally an RBI and make it a one run game before Morehead State could trigger the third out. The Bruins tried to tie the game in the ninth after sophomore Chas Hadden (Morristown, Tenn.) led off the inning with a two-bagger to right centerfield. A sacrifice bunt by Austin Reynolds (Smyrna, Tenn.) moved Hadden to third with one out but the Eagles stopped Belmont's comeback bid, with a pair of outs to take the first game of the series, 4-3.
The Bruins will take on the Eagles for game two tomorrow, March 18. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. at E.S. Rose Park. Game three is slated for 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 19.