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May 22, 2009

Tech in OVC championship game Saturday after 13-12, 10-inning victory Friday night

PADUCAH, Ky. – Casanova Donaldson bounced a two-out single through the right side and Chad Oberacker raced home from second base, beating the throw for the winning run as Tennessee Tech withstood a furious comeback by Jacksonville State Friday night and claimed a 13-12 victory in 10 innings in the 2009 Ohio Valley Conference Baseball Tournament in Brooks Stadium.

The Golden Eagles (29-22-1) advance to the championship game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the double-elimination tournament.

“He (Donaldson) has done his job all year long, and the neat thing about it is that we believe in him so much, and we knew he was going to get the job done,” said Golden Eagle head coach Matt Bragga.

Murray State and Jacksonville State tangle at 12 noon for the right to face Tech. The winner will need to beat the Golden Eagles twice to claim the title, while one more victory by Bragga’s team will send Tech to the NCAA Tournament with the league’s automatic bid.

Playing for the OVC title doesn’t surprise Donaldson, even after his team got off to a 1-7 start in conference play early in the year.

“It’s like a roller coaster. It’s great. You have to stay positive,” Donaldson said. “I believe I said earlier in the year that we’d come out on top, and we’re making that happen.”

Bragga was proud of the way his team battled back after nearly letting the game get away late in the contest.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and I give our guys a whole lot of credit,” Bragga said. “When you have a four-run lead in the ninth looking to go 3-0, and they score four, to be able to come back from that and scratch and claw and get a run, that’s not easy to do.

“I’ve been playing and coaching this game for a long time, and I give our guys a while lot of credit for believing,” he said.

Sophomore A.J. Kirby-Jones was 3-for-5 with a double and two home runs, tying two records. He tied the school record with 20 home runs in a season, matching the mark by Jeremy Bonczynski set in 1997. He also tied the OVC record for most home runs in a tournament.

Junior Lee Henry (9-2) pitched the final 1.1 innings in relief to record the win, his second of the tournament after working six innings as the starter Wednesday in Tech’s 9-4 triumph over Southeast Missouri.

It was a wild contest with a wild finish, at four hours the longest game in the history of the tournament in Brooks Stadium.

Tech took a 3-1 lead in the first frame and owned a 9-4 advantage after five innings. The Golden Eagles appeared in control with a 12-8 advantage heading into the ninth, but the Gamecocks wouldn’t go quietly.

JSU rallied to tie the game with four runs in the ninth on just three hits, taking advantage of three walks and a hit batter to set the fuse for the comeback. The tying run came on a slow roller on the infield that went for an RBI single and knotted the contest, 12-12.

JSU turned to reliever Bill Henke in the bottom of the ninth and he set down three straight Golden Eagles to send the contest to extra innings.

Henry, who got the final out of the JSU ninth, pitched a perfect 10th inning to give his team a chance to win.

Oberacker led off with a bouncing single up the middle to lead off the inning, but Henke retired the next two batters. Oberacker stole second, moving the winning run into scoring position, and Donaldson capped off a brilliant performance with his walk-off single. His bouncing hit to the right side slipped through the hole and into right field, and Oberacker wheeled around third and headed for home.

Right fielder Kyle Bluestein’s throw may have beaten Oberacker from shallow right, but it was up the line and the speedy Golden Eagle sophomore slid under catch Andrew Edge with the winning run.

“Those situations, that’s pretty much what you play the game for,” Donaldson said. “I dream about that every day, runner in scoring position and two outs. Oberacker got it started. He led off and got on, then stole second, and that makes it the hitter’s job to bring him in and that’s exactly what I did.”

Donaldson was 3-for-5 with three RBI and a sacrifice fly. Oberacker also collected three hits, along with Kirby-Jones. Alex Henry and Ben Burgess each had two hits, with Burgess including a solo home run in his day’s efforts.

That blast came in the third inning, when Kirby-Jones and Burgess blasted back-to-back home runs to make it a 5-2 lead.

JSU scored a pair of runs in the fourth to cut the deficit to 5-4 on a two-run home run from Jake Sharrock, but Tech answered with four in the bottom of the fifth. An RBI bunt single by Donaldson scored Kirby-Jones with the first run and the second run trotted home when Tate McMillan walked with the bases loaded.

Freshman Chad Hayes followed with a bases loaded RBI single, and the final run scored while JSU was turning a double play.

The Gamecocks got three runs in the top of the sixth to make it 9-7, but Tech came back with two more in the bottom of the inning to make it 11-7. Oberacker ripped a leadoff single and Kirby-Jones popped his second home run of the game over the fence in right field.

Each team scored once in the seventh, making it 12-8 heading into the final frame.

“I give Jax State a whole lot of credit, because they battled the whole way, too. It’s been fun and we’re excited to continue playing,” Bragga said.