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Golden Eagles erase eight-run deficit for 12-9 win, clinch series at Georgia Southern

STATESBORO, Ga. – After the Tennessee Tech baseball team split its first two games of a three-game series at Georgia Southern, Sunday’s series finale had a little something extra riding on it. A battle of defending conference champions looking to start the 2010 season with a bang against a tough non-conference opponent. And it appeared GSU would run away with a blowout win after the Eagles jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the second inning. But Tech battled all the way back, and took a 9-8 lead off a three-run homer from A.J. Kirby-Jones in the eighth inning that propelled the Golden Eagles to a 12-9 victory.

Tate McMillan had his third consecutive two-hit game, while Ben Burgess and Chad Oberacker each had two RBIs in the contest to help lead the Golden Eagles. Tech got its 12 runs on 14 hits and committed one error, while GSU scored nine runs on 11 hits with one error.

Freshman right hander Ryan Hopkins got the first win of his Golden Eagle career, as he pitched the final 1.2 innings, allowing only one hit and no runs as the Golden Eagles improve to 2-1 on the season.

“It was one of the best baseball games that I can remember wherever I’ve been,” Tech head coach Matt Bragga said. “It was really fun. We got down early and we just battled and battled and battled. It was kind of like a prize fight, we took a big blow early, then we threw the final knockout punch.”

Georgia Southern used eight hits, including a three-run homer, in the first two innings to jump out to an 8-0 lead. But the Golden Eagles would remain calm and begin to chip away.

“The mood at that point was what it always is, ‘we’re ok just keep chipping away and get back in the game,’” Bragga said. “We hung around at 8-4 for a while and we knew eventually that we’d get an opportunity to make a run.”

Back-to-back hits from Casanova Donaldson and Chad Hayes to begin the fifth inning helped lead to RBI doubles from Chad Oberacker and Ben Burgess as Tech got three runs in the inning to cut GSU’s lead to 8-3. An RBI single from Oberacker in the sixth inning and a scoreless seventh made the score 8-4 heading into the eighth inning.

Hayes led off the eighth with a single, and Zephan Guyear followed that with a double. After a throwing error on the play Guyear ended up on third base while Hayes scored from first. Oberacker then walked, and a wild pitch allowed him to advance to second, while Guyear scored from third to cut the lead to 8-6. A walk to Seth Edwards put two runners on for Kirby-Jones, who blasted his first home run of the season, a three-run shot, to complete the comeback and give Tech a 9-8 lead.

“That was an amazing at bat,” Bragga said. “They have some really good arms on their pitching staff, and the guy threw six huge breaking balls in a row. A.J. just kept fighting and fighting until he got the pitch he wanted and he just hammered it.”

But Tech’s work wasn’t done. Georgia Southern would keep the pressure on with a run in the bottom half of the inning to send the game to the ninth deadlocked at 9-9. After Donaldson struck out and Hayes grounded to first to start the ninth, Tech would piece together a game-winning two-out rally. Guyear kicked things off with a two-out double down the right field line. After Oberacker was intentionally walked Edwards came through with an RBI single, and would advance to second on the throw home, putting runners on second and third with a 10-9 lead. Kirby-Jones was then intentionally walked for the third consecutive day to load the bases for Burgess, who would capitalize with a two-RBI single to give Tech a 12-9 lead.

“It’s really neat because they intentionally walked A.J. three times this weekend and twice Ben came up with huge hits,” Bragga said. “First it was a single that scored three runs, and then today it was basically the same thing. Ben is a really good hitter and he just does what he does.”

Nick Price pitched three innings in relief without giving up a hit, before Oberacker came in to throw 2.1 innings, allowing just one run.

“Nick Price came in and did a great job for three innings, and Oberacker did too. And Hopkins did a great job to finish it. Those three guys did a tremendous job out of the pen for us.”

The Eagles would threaten with a one-out double in the bottom of the ninth, but Hopkins recorded a strikeout and forced a popup to end the game.

Tech will come home for its 2010 home opener against Cleveland State on Feb. 26 in the first game of a three game series. The teams will play at 3 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2 p.m. on Feb. 27 and 1 p.m. on Feb. 28. Admission to all Tech home baseball games is free.