Blue Raiders Hit the Road in Tough Series Matchup At UAB
By: Jack Patterson
MTN Sports Reporter
After suffering a series loss at home this past weekend against Old Dominion, the MTSU Blue Raiders baseball team looks to bounce back against the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers this weekend in another tough series, this time on the road. The Blue Raiders’ only game this week was postponed due to inclement weather, so this allowed the team to prepare extra for this weekend. Head coach, Jim Toman, said that he and his assistants have been looking at scouting reports on UAB’s hitters and pitchers in order to prepare for the weekend series. “We have it in the dugout before every game, so we have a good idea on every team we play. They (UAB) went down to Rice and won two out of three on the road, which is very difficult to do, they are playing really well,” Toman said. He also emphasized the importance of not giving all of the preparation focus to another team, but that they still had to remain true to themselves and focus on what the team could improve.
“We are worried about ourselves and getting ourselves ready to play. My assistants will finish up the scouting reports and then we will figure out how we want to attack them,” he said. UAB is ranked second in all of Conference USA coming into the series, with an overall 13-5 record and 2-1 in the conference. Coach Toman further emphasized that if his team can focus on playing good baseball, at all three phases of the game (pitching, hitting and defense), then it should be a satisfactory outcome. “Rather than focus on them, we want to focus on how we are playing on defense, how we are pitching, how we are hitting. So, if we play well at these three phases and we are locked in, then we will have a favorable result,” Toman said.
When asked if he had a player in particular that he might lean on for this series, both in pitching and hitting, he noted that his team just needs to stay consistent in their play. For example, he described how one of his pitchers had excellent outings in his first few starts but has been roughed up as of late. “We’ve had a lot of good games and bad games on the pitching staff. Last week, (Eriq) Swan had a really good outing, and (Jaden) Hamm had a pretty good outing, and we have been using Wigginton as a swing guy. We do need to get (Zach) Keenan back on track because he pitched very well in the beginning of the year. We will use the same guys that we’ve been using. Our middle relievers have really stepped up the last couple of weeks, but we need everyone to pitch and play well. For the most part our guys have really competed well, and we just need to focus on playing as hard as we can and play good, sound baseball,” Toman said as his final thoughts.
One of the unmentioned players that coach Toman has been relying on throughout this season is senior catcher, Mason Speirs. Due to unfortunate circumstances regarding the regular starting catcher, Briggs Rutter, Speirs has taken over the catching duties. Not only has he taken over, but he has stepped up as the clear heart of the lineup and one of the true leaders on the team. Speirs’s 2021 campaign was not one that reflects his statistics this season, as he batted a mere .128 with only 1 run batted in (RBI) and a slugging percentage below .200. This year, however, he leads the team in three separate hitting categories with a .383 batting average, a .574 slugging percentage, and an on base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of over 1.000. When asked about what his turned around this year, he said, “I am not really sure what’s been going on. I have just been working hard and things finally started to click for me, especially at Auburn.” Even in his success this season, he still praised his team for how they have all been playing better this season, saying that “As long as we’re all, 1-9, producing, we’ve got a great chance of winning this series and maybe even a sweep.” Speirs went on to further say that he has tried his best to step up in Briggs Rutter’s absence and be there for the Blue Raiders pitching staff and “lead them” as he put it.
Speirs showed his true character when asked if his play and his senior status this season has allowed him to become even more so of a leader for the team. “The stats are great and all, but I try and be a leader regardless of what happens on the field. I try and work as hard as I can. I try and show up early. I try and be a leader in a lot more ways than just on the field. But yeah, I think my performance has helped motivate other people to step up their game too,” said Speirs.
Both Speirs and Toman mentioned the same players of who the team can lean on, especially for these tough series matchups. Those players: Peyton Wigginton, Eriq Swan, and Jaden Hamm. Speirs had this to say of these mentioned players, “I think Peyton Wigginton has always been really solid for us in the last two years that I have been here. He has kind of taken on a new role this year, because we lost a lot of pitchers, so he has kind of been that closer/four inning guy that comes in for the back half of the game. That has been very important for us. And we have two young starters in Hamm and Swan, and I think every start they have had this year has gotten progressively better and they showed it this past weekend.”
The final thoughts Speirs shared was what he and the team needed to work on and look for specifically in this weekend’s matchup. “Me personally, I need to get back to swinging on pitches I want to swing at. This past weekend vs Old Dominion, I wasn’t swinging at the pitches I wanted to and that kind of led to me not having as great a series that I would’ve hoped. As far as the team goes, I think we’re in a great spot. Even though the Old Dominion series didn’t go as we wanted, I still think we played very well and I’m excited to see how we are all going to do against UAB,” he said.
The Blue Raiders look to use their preparation and positive energy all series long, as the first pitch of game #1 is slated for 6:00 p.m. CST on Friday.