Austin Peay did that Friday night. Jacksonville State did not.
JSU had 10 runners reach scoring position and scored only one run — that on a throwing error after a great defensive play — while top-seeded Peay scored three runs in the ninth and won 4-1 to reach the OVC Tournament title game today.
For the Gamecocks (35-22) to reach the championship round for the seventh time in their eight years in the league, they will have to get past Southeast Missouri in today’s 11 a.m. elimination game. They beat the Redhawks 8-2 Thursday night.
The biggest trouble JSU had against the Governors (32-22) was not being able to deliver in the clutch. The Gamecocks are one of the best hitting teams in the OVC, but were only 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position this game. They hit .311 with RISP — fifth best in the league — during the regular season.
“It certainly had a big impact,” JSU coach Jim Case said. “The positive thing is we had opportunities … The negative part was we didn’t get them in. And that’s going to happen sometimes.
“I thought there were times with runners in scoring position where we hit balls really hard, we just hit them in the wrong places. … It is disappointing and you have to be able to execute. If you get 10 hits, you feel like you’re going to score more runs, but we didn’t do that tonight.”
The Gamecocks put runners at the corners with one out in the second and seventh innings, on the corners with two outs in the eighth and had four runners in scoring position in the fourth and failed to score any of them.
The run they did get came gift-wrapped in an error that broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning.
It started with runners at the corners with none out. Blake Seguin lined a shot up the middle that Jordan Hankins made a great diving catch on for the second out, but trying to make something else happen, the Peay second baseman threw wildly to first trying to double off Kyle Bluestein.
The ball bounced off the dugout railing and into the stands allowing Sam Eberle to score.
Jake Sharrock got the fourth-inning threat going with a line single that caught Peay starter Jack Snodgrass in his pitching elbow. When Snodgrass shook his head twice throwing test pitches to see if he was all right, it didn’t look like the senior left-hander would be able to continue.
But he stayed in the game and got outs from the next nine JSU hitters he faced. He retired seven in a row at one point, including five strikeouts in a row. He finished with a career 11 strikeouts in the longest outing of the career.
Eberle broke the string with a double into the leftfield corner leading off the sixth.
The Govs tied it in the next inning on Cody Hudson’s two-out homer off Tanner Freshour.
It remained tied until the ninth.
Pinch-hitter Jon Clinard started the rally with a bloop single into short right. It was his first swing in three weeks following a knee injury sustained in a home-plate collision against Morehead State. Hankins followed with a bunt that Freshour failed to handle and brought record-setting JSU closer Todd Hornsby into the game.
After Peay executed a double steal, Hornsby got Frazier to line to first for the first out. Hudson grounded sharply to Seguin at second. Seguin looked home and got Clinard in a rundown. He threw to third and Coty Blanchard’s throw to the plate hit Clinard in the back allowing him to score.
Hornsby walked Gautier intentionally to load the bases and set up a double play, but Blanchard poked a single through the middle of a drawn-in infield to drive in two.
“It’s a do-or-die situation, I’ve been in them all year long, a lot of times we come out on top,” Hornsby said. “We had some bonehead mental mistakes that really killed us tonight, but if it happens again, nine times out of 10 we’re going to come out ahead.”
The Gamecocks have been known to be a resilient bunch this season. They have produced 22 come from behind wins in games this season, but their situation this weekend will put that character to the test.
“It’ll be tough to have to win two tomorrow and one on Sunday, but I’ll go ahead and tell you this — we’ve done a lot tougher things than that,” senior outfielder Jake Sharrock said. “It won’t be that difficult. We have a good enough team where we can do it.
“We have the pitching, we have the hitting. Maybe we didn’t get the hits tonight, but tomorrow we will.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.