COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – There's gonna be a showdown in Bush Stadium this weekend when no. 2 Tennessee Tech will face off against no. 1 Murray State to determine the regular-season OVC champion for the 2010 season.
Friday afternoon will mark the start of the contests, when the Golden Eagles take the field at 12:00 p.m. to face the Racer lineup for some doubleheader action.
Rallying from an 0-5 start in the Ohio Valley Conference to win 11 straight league games has propelled Tech into second place, just one game behind Murray State. The streak started with freshman pitcher Nick Price's first win of the season when Tech put up 12 runs at Southeast Missouri for a 12-8 victory in the series finale on the road in mid-April.
The Golden Eagles went on to sweep Eastern Illinois, Morehead State and Austin Peay at home, maintaining an undefeated OVC record on their home turf, and a doubleheader against UT-Martin on the road for 10 more conference wins.
Murray State handed UT-Martin, SEMO and EKU the broom and snagged a series win from Jacksonville State, taking two games on the weekend en route to the top spot in the conference.
Last time the two rivals went head-to-head, three returners for Tech batted over .400 against the Murray State pitching staff despite swallowing two losses and a tie for the series. Current junior A.J. Kirby-Jones slugged .800 in the series, logging four hits including a double and a home run. Casanova Donaldson went 4-for-9 at the plate, while then-freshman Chad Hayes batted a solid .500.
Hayes is running with a five-game hit streak as of Tuesday's win against Western Carolina, and Kirby-Jones has reached a personal season-high with a 10-game streak.
The Golden Eagles will also look to junior center fielder Chad Oberacker at the plate and on the field as they take on the Racers this weekend. While the Ohio Valley Conference championship is on the line for both teams, the matchup also pits two front-runners for OVC Player of the Year against one another. Oberacker and Murray State first baseman Wes Cunningham are potential frontrunners for OVC honors and await a decision that will likely be influenced by the outcome of the upcoming contests.
Oberacker owns the third highest batting average in the nation at .455, which ranks first in the OVC, and is slugging .675 for the season. He also leads the conference in hits with a school-record 95, and has brought 59 runners across the plate this season. Additionally, his on-base percentage ranks third in the OVC at .529. Oberacker will be looking to add to his six-game hit streak against Murray State.
Cunningham trails Oberacker closely, batting .432 and maintaining a .502 on-base percentage mark with 86 hits on the season. He leads the OVC in RBI (74), triples (6) and total bases (169).
Golden Eagle batters will go up against right-handed hurler Chris Craycraft in game one of Friday's double-dip. Craycraft is 6-3 on the season, maintains a 4.48 ERA and ranks second in the conference in innings pitched. Lefty Jake Donze (5-5/5.99 ERA) will finish out Friday's contests for the Racers, and the undefeated right-hander Alex Love (6-0/5.74 ERA) will take the hill for Saturday's finale.
Seniors Adam Liberatore (5-4/5.23 ERA) and Lee Henry will throw for Tech on Friday. Henry leads the OVC with the lowest ERA at 2.64 and is 5-3 on the mound this year. Freshman right-hander Tristan Archer (3-1/7.47 ERA) will finish off the series for Tech on Saturday.
Three wins over Murray State will clinch the regular-season OVC Championship for the Golden Eagles outright for the first time since 1997 regardless of the rest of conference play. However, Tech can also secure the title if they take two games in the series two games and Southeast Missouri and Jacksonville State fail to sweep their weekend opponents.
Either way, the Golden Eagles are on their way to the 2010 OVC Tournament in Jackson, Tenn., next wee to defend their touney title.
Fans who cannot make it to this weekend's games can follow the live stats here.