COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- After falling behind 5-0 in the fifth
inning, the Tennessee Tech baseball team put together a furious
comeback, led by sophomore A.J. Kirby-Jones’ second grand
slam of the season, as the Golden Eagles downed in-state rival
Belmont 8-6 in Bush Stadium.
“I was just trying to go up there and do what I do,” Kirby-Jones said.
Kirby-Jones went 4-for-4 from the plate, with six RBIs. The grand slam was his fifth home run of the season.
Senior Ryan Dennick pitched the final three innings, striking out the first four batters he faced, as Tech improved to 9-3 on the season.
“A.J. had a heck of a day,” head coach Matt Bragga said. “And (Ryan) was dynamite. He had a great outing today, and he’s really throwing the slop out of the ball.”
Dennick earned the save for the Golden Eagles, allowing just one hit in three innings, while striking out five and walking one. Freshman Chad Hayes worked four innings of relief, and struck out four Belmont batters. Freshman Jerred Griggs pitched two-thirds of an inning, and got the win (1-0).
Belmont (7-7) scored one run in the first and second innings, and added three in the fifth to go up 5-0 before Tech put together its comeback. In the bottom of the fifth Cory Wright walked with the bases loaded, putting Tech on the scoreboard, and setting the table for Kirby-Jones to clear the bases and tie the score at five.
The Golden Eagles scored their eight runs on just five hits. In addition to Kirby-Jones’ four, junior Tate McMillan had one hit and two RBIs.
The tie didn’t last long, as Belmont went up 6-5 in the top of the sixth inning when Matt Zeblo led off the inning with a solo homer.
The Golden Eagles would take the lead for good in the bottom half of the inning, when Heath Cheverton walked to lead off the inning, then stole second and advanced to third on an error. Later in the inning, McMillan singled, scoring Cheverton. Then with two outs, Kirby-Jones singled, scoring McMillan and Alex Henry, putting Tech up 8-6.
“We had to scrap back and fight to win,” Kirby-Jones said. “It’s always tough when you’re playing from behind.”
The last Golden Eagles to hit two grand slams in one season was Matt Ballard, when he had slams against Tennessee and Cumberland College in 1989. Kirby-Jones hit his first grand slam in the second game of an opening-day double header against Saint Peters College on Feb. 20. His six RBIs were one short of a Tech single-game record.
The Golden Eagles will travel to Nashville for a return game with the Bruins on March 24 at Greer Stadium.
Later on in the week Tech will welcome Valparaiso to Cookeville for a four-game series, with double headers on March 13 and 14.