NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Hot bats lifted Belmont University Baseball to a pair of victories on Saturday over Ohio Valley Conference opponent Eastern Illinois at E.S. Rose Park. The Bruins took game one of the double header 9-7 and game two 5-1. The day was highlighted by junior Devon Gardner (Maryville, Tenn.) who went six-for-nine on the day and blasted three home runs in game two. The Bruins improved to 10-6 in OVC play with the two victories.
Game one of the double header was filled with offensive energy with 16 runs scored and 20 hits between the two squads.
After a scoreless first inning, Belmont had momentum after the top of the second when it took freshman Joshua South (Cookeville, Tenn.) just four pitches to retire the Panthers in order.
Belmont's bats woke up in the bottom of the second inning, taking an early 4-0 run after four hits and a couple walks. Senior Hunter Holland (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) got the big inning started with a one-out double to left field. Freshman Tommy Crider (Madison, Ala.) and junior Hagan Severance (Brentwood, Tenn.) then notched consecutive base hits to score Holland and give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. With runners on the corners and just one out, freshman Grayson Taylor (Cullman, Ala.) worked a walk to load the bases. With one out left in the inning and the bases full of Bruins, senior Zach Ehrhart (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) had a nice at-bat and worked a walk to push another run across the plate. Belmont wasn't done yet as senior Chas Hadden (Morristown, Tenn.) delivered a single that plated two more runs and BU took a 4-0 lead after two complete innings.
Eastern Illinois responded in the top of the third with two runs of its own, cutting Belmont's lead 4-2.
After a quiet fourth inning, Belmont scored again in the bottom of the fifth. Base hits by Taylor and Gardner put two aboard with one out. Holland then wore a pitch loading the bases. Crider, put the ball in play, grounding out but not before the Bruins' fifth run crossed the plate. The third out would strand two Belmont runners, but the damage was done, and Belmont had a 5-2 lead after five.
The back-and-forth action continued with EIU scoring its third run of the game to keep the pressure on the Bruins.
With a 5-3 lead, Belmont blew things open in the bottom of the sixth. Belmont had two early base runners when sophomore Jackson Campbell (Russellville, Ky.) was hit by a pitch and Ehrhart reached on a fielder's choice. Hadden then delivered another RBI single, plating Campbell for a 6-3 lead. With runners on the corners, Gardner delivered a clutch RBI double to right center field, clearing the bases and tacking on some insurance runs for the Bruins. The final run of the inning was scored when Holland notched a single to center field that drove Gardner home and gave Belmont a commanding 9-3 lead.
A solo home run in the top of the seventh and a sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth cut BU's lead 9-5 after eight complete innings.
Sophomore closer Logan Bowen (Bowling Green, Ky.) relieved South in the top of the ninth to try and close things out for the Bruins. EIU tried to claw back, scoring two runs in the top of the ninth, but Bowen dug in and got the three outs needed to secure the 9-7 Belmont victory.
Game two of the twin bill was a much lower scoring affair, but Belmont had the same offensive firepower as in game one.
Sophomore Korey Bell (Brentwood, Tenn.) and the Belmont defense set the tone early, retiring the Panthers in order in the top of the first. Although EIU notched a base runner early who made his way to third after a stolen base and a balk, an unconventional double play ended the inning. Gardner chased down a foul ball past the right field line for one out and then flung a dart to Campbell who was waiting at the plate and tagged the runner out at home plate completing the double play.
Belmont then took an early lead in the bottom of the first. After two quick outs, junior Chandler Adkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) sent a base knock through the left side, putting an early runner on base. Gardner then stepped up to the plate, swinging on the first pitch he saw, and blasted a two-run home run well past the left field fence, giving Belmont an early 2-0 lead.
Bell worked around a walk and a base hit in the top of the second and forced an important fly ball to left field for the third out of EIU's half of the inning, preserving the Belmont lead.
The Bruins' bats went cold in the third and fourth innings, but Bell kept Belmont in it defensively, keeping Eastern Illinois off the board.
BU got back on the board in the bottom of the fifth. Severance worked a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt laid down by Taylor. Campbell and Ehrhart then notched back-to-back hits that pushed Severance across the plate giving Belmont a 3-0 lead.
EIU scored its only run of the second game in the top of the sixth to cut the Belmont lead 3-1.
Gardner continued his impressive day in the bottom of the sixth with his second long ball of the game. His leadoff home run in the bottom of the sixth gave Belmont a 4-1 lead.
After a scoreless seventh, Gardner capped off his outing with yet another leadoff home run in the bottom of the eighth. Swinging on the second pitch of the inning, Gardner sailed another ball past the outfield fence for a 5-1 Belmont lead.
Relief pitcher sophomore Kyle Brennan (Franklin, Tenn.) threw the final three and a third innings for the Bruins, allowing no runs to secure the 5-1 victory and his second save of the season.
Belmont will be back in action Tuesday, April 9 for a midweek matchup at Western Kentucky University.