The Colonels made a dramatic return to the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.
Trailing by a run heading into the ninth inning, Eastern Kentucky rallied for two runs and held on to defeat Murray State, 4-3, Thursday in the tournament’s opening round at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn.
Freshman right-hander Anthony Bazzani pitched eight innings and struck out 10 batters and sophomore A.J. Jamison delivered a crucial pinch-hit RBI double in the final inning.
With the win, the Colonels advanced in the winner’s bracket to face top-seeded Tennessee Tech. That game did not start until 11 p.m. on Thursday and results were not available at press time.
If EKU beats Tech, the Colonels will take on No. 2 seed Jacksonville State at 8:30 p.m. today. A loss sends EKU to loser’s bracket, where the team will face Murray State at noon.
The win over Murray State marked EKU’s return to the OVC Tournament after a two-season absence.
“Our freshmen are not freshmen anymore,” EKU coach Jason Stein said. “Anthony Bazzani pitched like a senior today, Austin Grisham hit like a junior. And I cannot say enough about A.J. Jamison coming off the bench cold to deliver that big hit. A great win for this team. I’m very proud of them.”
With the Colonels (28-25) trailing 3-2 heading into the top of the ninth, sophomore Jacob Daniel started the rally with a lead-off double into left center. Stein then made the call to pinch-hit Jamison for senior Joey Stevens. Despite not having an at-bat since May 9 and not having a hit since April 13, Jamison took a 3-2 fastball and roped into left center, scoring pinch-runner Richie Allen and tying the game.
After a groundout by sophomore Dustin Dunlop advanced Jamison to second, junior Bryce Labhart gave the Colonels the lead for good with a sacrifice fly to right field that made it 4-3.
Junior right-hander Ryne Purcell allowed one hit in the bottom of the ninth, but was able to secure the win and lock up his league-leading 12th save of the season.
The win, however, began with a masterful performance by Bazzani (5-3), whose 10 strikeouts was one shy of the neutral site OVC Tournament record. Bazzani pitched eight innings and allowed three runs on six hits.
Sophomore Richie Rodriguez had a huge day at the plate for the Colonels, going 4-for-5 with a run scored. Freshman Austin Grisham, meanwhile, went 2-for-3 with an RBI, while Daniel collected a pair of double for EKU on the afternoon.
The opening-round between the two long-time rivals was actually scheduled to be played Wednesday night. However, lighting issues at Pringles Park forced the game to be moved to 11 a.m. Thursday.