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14 May 2007
JSU Wins 3-1, Back in Second

Bran Strickland
Sports Editor
Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE — With its red-hot offense, Jacksonville State had been rolling along lately throwing double-digits on the scoreboard like it was their job.

Saturday all that disappeared.

And on Sunday, it remained hidden.

So, with the pair of the highly valued tournament byes on the line, the Gamecocks proved they could win another way.

Starter Ben Tootle threw 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts and Clay Whittemore drove in the go-ahead run to lead the Gamecocks past Tennessee-Martin 3-1.

The win, paired with Southeast Missouri's 9-8 loss to Morehead State, moves the Gamecocks (29-23 overall, 16-8 Ohio Valley Conference) back into second place in the OVC standings with one three-game series remaining.

Austin Peay (34-18, 17-7) remained in first, one game ahead of JSU, with a 15-3 win over Murray State. The top two teams in the regular season draw first-round byes in the OVC Tournament.

While no coach would turn down double-digit runs, Gamecocks coach Jim Case said he was happy to see the gritty victory.

“Just like some losses can put you in a slump, I think games like this sometimes can change a season,” Case said. “If we're going to have a chance, at some point we're going to have to shut people down. We're not going to win every tournament game 8-7, 9-8.

“These games can be very nerve-wracking, but at the same time, I think it's good for our team.”

What perhaps was the most nerve racking for Case was UT-Martin starter Eric Walker. After giving up a run in the first, the soft-tossing lefty settled down to hold the Gamecocks to just one hit over the next six innings.

With Walker coasting along, UT-Martin (19-32, 7-16) took advantage of a leadoff walk to tie the score in the fourth.

It wasn't until the eighth inning when the Gamecocks finally got to Walker.

After allowing a double to Nick Cleckler and walking Jake Ball, Walker's day was done. Travis Webb came in and promptly allowed Whittemore's go-ahead hit and a fielding error turned allowed Ball to score.

The win went to sophomore Alex Jones (2-2), who came on in relief of Tootle to record the final four outs. Though Tootle didn't factor into the decision, it was the third straight start he has been solid.

Tootle, only a freshman, won his previous two starts against Morehead and Tennessee Tech. He is now 3-1 in league play and 5-3 overall.

With the tournament's start getting closer and the places at the top crowded, Tootle knew it was crucial his efforts to be even better.

“I guess I did put a little more pressure on myself,” Tootle said. “I just tried to hold them down until (our offense) could get things figured out.”

While the Gamecocks did get things figured out for at least one inning, the bigger question is where did the offense go.

Was the two-game scoring drought just a hiccup or did the offensive surge — like many other things in baseball — simply run its course?

Either way, Whittemore knows that offense or no offense, things are going to work out.

“(Saturday's) loss caught us off guard,” he said. “We were fully expecting to win that game. We didn't know what had happen. We just stood there.

“So when (the offense) didn't show up today, our pitching did. It's the same way our season has gone. When somebody's down, there's always somebody there to pick them up.”

Bran Strickland

Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Anniston Star.

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