Middle Tennessee had to fight — and get fortunate — for its fleeting three-run lead. It had to draw two walks and move runners on wild pitches twice, plus a triple and single, to take the lead on Alabama in the second inning.
UA erased that lead in three at-bats, and put the Blue Raiders (3-5) away for good with one more.
For just the second time this season, UA baseball trailed on Wednesday. A run in the third and a run in the fourth brought the Crimson Tide closer, but five runs in the fifth — and four more in the seventh for good measure — kept UA’s undefeated start alive with a 12-6 win.
“I just think as a group of hitters right now, we always know we’re in the game,” freshman catcher Peyton Wilson said. “We can swing with anybody, I feel like. I think we showed we can hit a lot today.”
Wilson in particular, in his second career start, showed can swing with his more established teammates. His 4-for-4 day with two doubles was the first time a UA player had accomplished both of those feats individually this season, much less doing both in the same game. Neither had been done since Tyler Ras did them both against Troy on May 8, 2019.
“I don’t look at the stats that often, but I looked at them after the weekend and thought, ‘Golly, we only got Peyton a handful of at-bats,’” UA coach Brad Bohannon said, looking at the two at-bats Wilson had through UA’s first eight games. “I decided we were going to start him in one of the two midweek games.
“It’s kind of tough to crack our lineup at the catcher position with (Sam) Praytor and (Brett) Auerbach, but luckily Peyton and Brett are both kind of similar in that they can play all over the field. He’s somebody I wanted to play, we just have a lot of good players and that’s the good thing about having so many games.”
All four of Wilson’s hits were crucial parts of UA’s comeback or run away from MTSU. Twice, he led off an inning with a double and eventually scored, in the third inning to plate UA’s first run and in the sixth, increasing UA’s lead to four.
In between was the five-run fifth. Wilson led off with a single and moved to third on an error; shortstop Jim Jarvis drove him in with a double, who scored shortly thereafter on left fielder Owen Diodati’s double that tied the game. After right fielder Tyler Gentry was hit by a pitch, Praytor hit his fourth home run of the season, once again tying Diodati for the team lead.
The lineup did it all in a different look. Auerbach got his first start of the season at second base — having started at center field, third base and catcher previously — moving Jarvis to shortstop. Wilson’s insertion at catcher put Praytor at DH, a spot typically occupied by Diodati, who was in left field in place of T.J. Reeves.
Reeves has struggled to start the season — .167 over 30 at-bats, 12 strikeouts to five hits — and the move was partially to give Reeves a breather but also to continue systematic rotation. Praytor got a day off for the Feb. 19 game against Alabama State and everyday first baseman Drew Williamson got a day off Tuesday against UT Martin.
“It’s that balance: you want guys to get in the flow of playing all the time, and also you need to play multiple people,” Bohannon said. “T.J.’s been fighting it a little bit, and some days I think if you feel like you’re scuffling, sitting and watching can help.
Bohannon said of Reeves on Tuesday, “I think the one reason we’re talking about T.J. is because he’s a great player and we have high expectations for him. We might play 60 more games this year and he’s going to have a great season. If he’s worried about it, he’s the only one.”
Wilson and the lineup were able to charge past MTSU because Casey Cobb dominated in relief of starter Will Freeman. Cobb (1-0) went a career-high 4 1/3 innings and allowed just one run on four hits and two walks.
“Casey did a great job of giving us a chance to get back in there,” Bohannon said. “Just really attacked the hitters. Kind of did the opposite of some of the other guys: was ahead in the count and throwing secondary stuff for a strike.
“Casey is somebody that had a really good season last year and is noticeably better this year. He’s somebody we’re really going to lean on going forward.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson