CLEMSON, S.C. – In the biggest game of his career,
fifth-year senior pitcher Michael Alcorn put together one of his
all-time best performances. Alcorn pitched a complete game,
allowing only two runs against No. 14 Alabama, as the Tennessee
Tech baseball team sent the Crimson Tide home from the NCAA
Regional tournament, beating UA 6-2 Saturday afternoon.
The Tech offense gave Alcorn some breathing room, as all nine starters reached base safely at least once, and Tech’s seven and eight-hitters, Chad Hayes and Cory Wright, combined for three RBIs.
“This was a huge win, a huge team win for us,” Alcorn said. “I was going to stay in there until Coach Bragga pulled me out. If I start something, I like to finish it.”
It was Alcorn’s third complete game of the season, as he scattered nine hits, struck out six batters, and allowed only four walks.
“Michael was just phenomenal, and has been a blessing to have around, not just as a pitcher, but as a young man,” said Tech head coach Matt Bragga. “Any time you play a game, it’s great to get a complete game, but, to get it in the (NCAA) tournament is obviously phenomenal. We were able to save our bullpen, which is great going into tomorrow.”
As with Tech’s pitching and hitting, the Golden Eagle defense held up its end of the bargain, turning three double-plays without committing an error. The Golden Eagles have only committed two errors since the start of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on May 20, both coming on the same play.
“The double plays were vital today,” Bragga said. “Our middle has been dynamite and I just thought we played pretty good defense overall.”
Alex Henry and Chad Oberacker’s bats stayed hot against the Crimson tide, as Henry went 2-for-5, and scored a run, and Oberacker went 3-for-4 for the second consecutive day, with a run scored.
Senior Evan Webb also played a big role in Tech’s third all-time NCAA tournament win, with two hits in four at-bats, a huge RBI single, and a run scored. Catcher Cory Wright had the same stat-line offensively, and also foiled Alabama’s only attempted steal.
“The bottom of the order today was fantastic,” Bragga said. “I think Cory Wright would be the one guy I would mention in particular, he had a double early in the game that led to a run, and the he had a big basses-loaded single.”
All-in-all, it was one of the best all-around performances from the Golden Eagles this season, and it could not have come at a better time, as Tech was facing elimination for the first time this season.
“We all have our roll on the team, and with A.J. (Kirby-Jones) hitting behind me, getting people in scoring position is part of my job,” Oberacker said. “If we each just do our jobs, then hopefully it will lead to victory, and it did today.”
After a scoreless first inning, the Crimson Tide jumped on top in the top of the second. Alabama, the region’s No. 2 seed, led off the inning with a single from Kent Matthes, a first-team All-American, who led the nation in home runs and was the SEC’s Player of the Year. Another single from Brandon May put runners on first and second with nobody out, and a third consecutive single, this one from Clay Jones, scored Matthes, giving Alabama a 1-0 lead. Alcorn would work his way out of the jam from there, as he struck out Vin DiFazio to get the first out of the inning, before enticing designated hitter Del Howell to hit into a 4-3 double play.
The Golden Eagles, who were the home team in the neutral-site game, would respond in the bottom half of the inning. Webb led off the bottom of the second with a single up the middle, and after Brandon Crossman flied out on a hard-hit ball to center, Wright hit a double down the left field line to put runners on second and third. That’s when Chad Hayes, a freshman second baseman, hit a single up the middle that scored Webb and Wright, giving Tech a 2-1 lead.
The Golden Eagles would hold the lead the rest of the way, and have only trailed at the end of five innings since the start of the OVC tournament, including Friday’s 5-4 ninth-inning loss to Clemson.
Tech would take advantage of a lead off walk in the fifth inning to add a third run. After Cheverton walked on five pitches, Henry laid down a perfectly placed bunt that turned into a single, to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Another bunt single from Oberacker would follow to load the bases for A.J. Kirby-Jones, who hit an RBI sacrifice fly, to give the Golden Eagles a 3-1 lead.
But Alabama wouldn’t go away. The Crimson Tide got hits from May, DiFazio and Howell in the seventh inning to score a run, but a heads-up play by Hayes at second base to throw out May aggressively trying to score from second base on an infield single eneded ‘Bama’s threat to tie or take the lead, stranding two base runners, with Tech still ahead 3-2.
“He was just trying to make something happen, and (Hayes) came up with it and made a good throw,” Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. “You have to take some chances when you are struggling offensively.”
But in the bottom of the inning the Tech offense would take some pressure off of Alcorn, adding three runs. The inning started with a leadoff double from Henry into the corner in left field. Oberacker followed that with a SAC bunt, and reached on a fielders choice, as UA pitcher Adam Morgan attempted to throw Henry out at third, but errantly put the ball in left field, allowing Henry to score, and Oberacker to advance to second with no outs. The Crimson Tide intentionally walked Kirby-Jones, before Ben Burgess would single to load the bases for Webb. That’s when Webb knocked in a run with a single of his own for Techs second run of the frame. After Casanova Donaldson pinch hit for Crossman and struck out, Wright put his second hit of the game into right center field, which scored Kirby-Jones, to give the Golden Eagles a 6-2 lead.
The Crimson Tide would threaten to score in the eighth and ninth innings, putting runners in scoring position in each inning, but Alcorn shut down both threats to seal the win, and advance in the regional bracket.
“This win is huge for our program,” Bragga said. “It doesn’t really matter who we play, we expect to win, and want to win when we take the field.”
The Golden Eagles will play the loser of the night game between Clemson and Oklahoma State on Sunday at 2 p.m.
POST GAME COMMENTS:
Tennessee Tech Head Coach Matt Bragga
On the win:
“I’m just really proud of our young men for being able to bounce back after a tough loss last night. I believe in our young men and their tenacity and capability to respond to adversity. We knew win or lose, we would compete really hard and give it our all.”
On pitcher Michael Alcorn's performance:
“Michael was just phenomenal and has been a blessing to have around, not just as a pitcher but as a young man”
On turning double plays:
“The double plays were vital today. Our middle has been dynamite and I just thought we played pretty good defense overall.”
On the win over an SEC school like Alabama:
“It’s huge for our program, but it doesn’t really matter who we play. We expect to win and want to win when we take the field.”
On production of the bottom of the lineup:
“The bottom of the order today was fantastic. I think Cory Wright would be the one guy I would mention there. I think he had a double early in the game that led to a run and then he had a big bases-loaded single.”
On having a pitcher throw a complete game:
“It is huge. Any time you play a game, it’s great to get a complete game. But, to get it in the tournament is obviously phenomenal. We were able to save our bullpen, which is great going into tomorrow.”
On his bunts:
“We all have our role on the team and with A.J. (Kirby-Jones) hitting behind me, getting people in scoring position is part of my job. If we each just do our jobs, hopefully it will lead to victory and it did today. Bunting has a lot to do with placement. Good bunts create problems for defenses.”
On the complete-game win:
“I’ve had some back problems in the past and I give God a lot of glory for helping me heal my back. It feels great to get back out there again. This was a huge win, a huge team win for us. I was just locating stuff better today. If I can get my off-speed stuff over, it sets up everything else. I pitch a lot of guys backwards, so I was just trying to get in a rhythm. I wanted to stay in there. I was going to stay in until Coach Bragga pulled me out. If I start something, I like to finish."
Alabama Head Coach Jim Wells
On the loss:
“Tennessee Tech’s pitcher did a great job today, I thought our guy did well. We mishandled some bunts today and heir guys stayed in the whole game and pitched great. It is tough when you only score two.”
On handling the bunts:
“We don’t deal with that much in our league, of course we work on it in practice and such. A couple of them were well placed bunts, one was a little indecision and another was thrown away. The fundamentals of the game hurt us, because it certainly wasn’t balls in the gap that got us beat.”
Looking back on the season:
“We will get together later. We did a lot of very good things, a lot of good people here like these two guys up here. The whole team was a great group of kids, a lot of seniors, never gave us any trouble, practiced hard, just played poorly the last few weeks. I have nothing but great memories of these guys, its as good a group of people that we have ever had. I am very proud of them, and it is just tough that it ended this way.”
On Hays getting thrown out at the plate:
“He was just trying to make something happen and the guy came up with it and made a good throw. You have to take some chances when you are struggling offensively.”
On the end of the season:
“I can’t really put it into words, the past few years I have just gone home in the summer and watched the College World Series on television and always thought that we could be there next year. Now I will go home and watch it, but there won’t be a next year. Obviously the past few weeks have been tough, this is a great ball club. This has been the time of my life playing these last four years.”
On coming to bat with runners on base in the eighth:
“That is the way I had pictured it all year. Me up at bat in that situation, he made some pitches and I just missed it. There are no excuses for that, I have to get it done in that situation.”
On the end of the season:
“I think for me it is just disappointing. We had a pretty good year and just didn’t play well down the stretch when we needed to. We would like to play better for these guys like Kent, Tyler, and Austin Hyatt had good years but we didn’t. There is nothing we can do about it now.”
On TTU's pitcher ...
“He did a good job. He kept the ball down and didn’t really miss all day on anyone. He would throw the curve ball in there to get a little respect and he threw it for some strikes. He just didn’t miss, and when a guy does that and keeps you off balance it is not easy to hit. When we had chances we needed to take advantage of them, and we didn’t so that’s why we lost.”