Casey Antley delivered such an outing Thursday for the Jacksonville State baseball team in the OVC Tournament.
The freshman left-hander held No. 2 seed Southeast Missouri scoreless for six innings and the Gamecocks pushed through for an 8-2 win to reach tonight’s winner’s bracket final against top-seeded Austin Peay at Pringles Park.
Antley, the Gamecocks’ Game 2 starter in each of their last two OVC series, was a little shaky early, but settled down and scattered four hits. He walked four — three among the first six batters he faced — and struck out six. He threw 103 pitches, 60 for strikes.
SEMO coach Mark Hogan called it “about as convincing a job” by a pitcher against his senior-laden team this season. The Redhawks were the best-hitting and second-leading scoring team in the OVC this season.
“All I can do is thank coach for giving me the opportunity,” Antley said. “He put his trust in me today to step up for the team. The only thing I could do is give my best to impress him and do my best for the team.
“I really didn’t know what to expect. What I did expect, though, was to do my best for my team. I wanted to go out there and throw strikes the best way I could and give my team the best outing as possible. … There is a little pressure, but you can’t really think about that with the situation going on.”
The tone of the game was set in the first inning. Jake Sharrock took some of the pressure off Antley when he hit a wind-blown opposite-field homer to put the Gamecocks ahead after two batters. The Redhawks (32-21) loaded the bases in the home half with the help of two walks with one out, but Antley induced Brett Russell into an inning-ending double play and just got better from there.
“More exciting than the home run for myself, it helped Antley, who’s probably a little nervous — he’s a freshman,” Sharrock said. “He probably went out there and said I’ve got a one-, two-run lead, all I can do now is throw strikes. After that first inning, that’s what he did. That right there is what helped us win the game: Casey throwing strikes, throwing up zeros and keeping us in the game.”
SEMO put two runners in scoring position that were his responsibility, but never got them around.
The Gamecocks (35-21), meanwhile, extended their lead for Antley with a single run in the third and two in the fourth.
Antley, who had never pitched more than 4 2/3 innings in any of his previous eight starts, improved to 3-1 and dropped his ERA to 3.54. Todd Hornsby got the final four outs for his 15th save of the year.
The Redhawks finally got on the board with two in the eighth, but the Gamecocks put it away with four in the ninth. Michael Bishop got the inning started with a triple and Sam Eberle had the big hit, sticking out his bat with two strikes to poke a bases-loaded, two-run double down the right-field line.
Kyle Bluestein followed with a sacrifice fly and Erik Underwood followed that with his third RBI of the game. Sharrock, Eberle, Bluestein and Underwood — JSU’s 2-3-4-5 hitters — combined for seven of the Gamecocks’ nine hits and seven RBIs.
“It just seemed like tonight for us every time we got close, they pulled away,” said Hogan, whose program suffered its sixth straight OVC Tournament loss. “What you want to do get close and push through and make it go the other way, but they did a great job even all the way through to the ninth inning. It was impressive to watch them to play at the level they did.”
The victory moved the Gamecocks within two wins of the tournament title and an NCAA Tournament bid. A win tonight will put them in the championship game for the seventh time in the last eight years.
It’s basically the same position they would’ve been as a seeded team.
“Outside of the fact we had to throw guys to get there, there’s no way we could be in a better spot (tonight) than what we are,” JSU coach Jim Case said. “That’s the game everybody’s looking to get to.
“It’s not the championship game, but it puts you in wonderful position. It puts somebody having to scramble to come back to get you. If you can get to that game (tonight) and find a way to win it, you definitely have a leg up. It doesn’t guarantee you anything, but it certainly gives you a leg up.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.