Burgess slam, strong start from Henry help lift Tech to 9-5 tourney win over SEMO

PADUCAH, Ky. -- A grand slam by freshman Ben Burgess highlighted a six-run fifth inning, and Lee Henry struck out seven batters through the first six frames to lift Tennessee Tech to a 9-5 victory over Southeast Missouri Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the 2009 Ohio Valley Conference Baseball Tournament at Brooks Stadium.

Tech (27-22-1) will now face No. 2 seed Murray State at 2:30 p.m.

Tech's win avenged a three-game sweep by SEMO earlier in the year in Cookeville in the first OVC series of the year.

Henry (8-2), an All-OVC second-team selection, allowed only one hit over the first four innings and finished the game with six strong innings, allowing three earned runs without walking a batter. Sophomore closer A.J. Kirby-Jones came in to pitch the final three innings and pick up his third save of the season. Kirby-Jones allowed two runs and struck out two.

"We couldn't ask for more out of Lee Henry," said Golden Eagle coach Matt Bragga. "He really had his stuff today, and we got exactly what we needed from him."

Tech threatened in both the first and second innings, getting two runners aboard in each frame, but couldn't break through against SEMO starter James Leigh. Finally, in the fifth, the Golden Eagles exploded for six runs on just three hits, taking advantage of a crucial Redhawk error.

Heath Cheverton walked and Alex Henry beat out a bunt, putting two runners aboard with nobody out. Chad Oberaker laid down a sacrifice bunt that Leigh fielded but his throw sailed over first base, allowing Cheverton to race home with the first run.

With runners at second and third and nobody out, the Redhawks elected to intentionally walk Kirby-Jones, the co-leader in the OVC with 17 home runs this season. Instead, Burgess launched his third home run of the season for the team's fourth grand slam of 2009, making it 5-0.

"I don't blame SEMO one bit for walking A.J., but Ben is also a great hitter and fortunately for us, today he made them pay," said Bragga.

Todd Strahlendorf relieved Leigh, and Tech added another run on an RBI groundout by Chad Hayes to build the lead to 6-0.

Southeast Missouri (26-24) answered back in the bottom of the sixth, cutting the six-run advantage in half with two home runs. With one out and Justin Wheeler on first, Tyrell Cummings blasted an 0-2 pitch over the left field wall to make it 6-2. With one out, Matt Wagner hit a solo home run to right field to make it 6-3.

Tech got all three runs back in the seventh one two hits and two Redhawk errors. With one out, Evan Webb singled and Tate McMillan walked. A walk to Cory Wright loaded the bases. Hayes hit a grounder to third, and Webb slid home as the throw pulled the catcher off the plate for an error.

When SEMO tried to turn a double play on a grounder by Heath Cheverton, the relay throw to first was wild, allowing both Wright and McMillan to score and make it 9-3.

The Redhawks made it interesting with two runs in the ninth off Kirby-Jones, but the sophomore got out of the jam stranding two SEMO runners. Nick Harris led off with a solo home run to make it 9-4. With one out, Trenton Moses walked and Tony Spencer singled to put two runners aboard. After a fly out, Cummings singled to drive home the fifth run.

Leigh (7-3) took the loss, allowing seven hits and six runs (four runs) over 4.1 innings.

Wright had three of Tech's 11 hits, going 3-for-4 at the plate, while Henry and Kirby-Jones collected two hits each. Harris had three of SEMO's 11 hits, also going 3-for-4 for the Redhawks. Wheeler and Cumming had two hits each.