NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Four home runs highlighted an 18-hit attack and some brilliant relief pitching by Wade Bilbrey, Nick Price and Stephen Pryor propelled Tennessee Tech to a 15-5 victory over Belmont Tuesday afternoon at Shelby Park.
Tech (10-11) got 2 1/3 perfect innings of middle relief from Bilbrey, who struck out six of the seven batters he faced. The Golden Eagles took advantage, turning an 8-5 lead into a 12-5 advantage during his stint in the sixth and seventh.
Price struck out two in the eighth and Pryor fanned the side in the ninth as the Golden Eagle pitching staff combined for a season-high 14 strikeouts.
Sophomore Chad Hayes hit the first home run of his career and Seth Edwards poked his second of the year.
Oh, and did we mention that A.J. Kirby-Jones slammed two more home runs, giving him 13 on the year. The junior from Knoxville has now hit 10 home runs in the last 10 games and driven in 30 runs during that span.
He finished the game 4-for-5 with four runs scored, and had his second six-RBI game in the past week.
The Golden Eagles return home for a three-game series this weekend against future Ohio Valley Conference foe SIU Edwardsville. Games are set for Friday at 3, Saturday at 2 and Sunday at 1 p.m. in Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.
Admission to all regular season home baseball games is free.
Tech scored twice in the first with only one hit, a leadoff double by Chad Oberacker, who had his 14th multi-hit game of the year. A walk and a hit batter loaded the bases and the first run scored on a double play groundout. The second came home on a throwing error.
Belmont (13-8) answered with three in the bottom of the inning on two singles, two walks and a double.
The Golden Eagles exploded for five in the second to take a 7-3 lead. The big hits in the inning were an RBI double by Michael Morris, an RBI single by Oberacker, and a two-run double by Seth Edwards., extending his hitting streak to a team-high six games.
Each team added a run in the third, Tech's tally coming on a leadoff home run by Chad Hayes. The Bruins' run was unearned after a single, a walk and an error.
Belmont pulled to within 8-5 in the fifth as Derek Hamblen hit a home run to open the inning. A double by Matt Zeblo, brought Bilbrey into the contest and he quelled the threat and the Golden Eagles responded by adding two runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh to build their lead to 12-5.
In the sixth, Kirby-Jones started things with a single and Edwards followed with a home run to left field.
The deuce in the seventh came in similar fashion. Austin Wulf singled with one out, giving Tech at least one hit from every spot in the batting order, and Kirby-Jones slammed his 12th home run of the season to left field.
The final three runs came off Kirby-Jones' blast in the ninth after Morris had walked and Wulf collected his second hit of the game.
Oberacker was Tech's starter but only worked one inning, allowing three runs on three hits, two walks and one strikeout. Ryan Hopkins (2-2) pitched 3 2/3 innings, yielding two runs on four hits with two strikeouts, earning his second win of the year.
Bilbrey went 2 1/3 innings of perfect relief, striking out six of the seven hitters he faced. Price tossed the eighth inning. After walking the first two batters he faced he settled down and struck out two.
Pryor worked the ninth and struck out three pinch-hitters as Tech pitchers fanned 11 of the final 13 outs.
Belmont Starter Dalton Bell (1-1) took the loss after pitching into the second inning and giving up five runs. He was the first of six Bruin pitchers used in the contest.
Belmont managed just seven hits in the game with Hamblen and Dylan Craig getting to apiece.
The two schools meet again in Cookeville on April 13.
-photo of Wade Bilbrey above provided by Belmont (taken by Glenn Gregory)