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April 18, 2010

Ninth inning rally lifts Golden Eagles to 6-5 win and series sweep from EIU

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Good things come to those who wait, and Tennessee Tech waited a long time Sunday before rallying in the final two innings for a 6-5 come-from-behind victory over Eastern Illinois. The win allowed Tech (18-19/4-5 OVC) to sweep the three-game series from the Panthers.

Chad Oberacker (photo) capped Tech's three-run charge in the bottom of the ninth, bouncing a bases loaded single up the middle as the tying and winning runs raced home. 

Tech has now won five in a row, its longest winning string of the season.

It was an unlikely win for Tech, which saw Eastern Illinois (9-25/4-8 OVC) jump to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning. The Panthers opened with two walks off starter Nick Price and followed with three singles and a sacrifice bunt to build their lead.

Chason Choate took over with one out in the first and got out of the inning with just one single, then worked five scoreless innings without another hit. He walked one and struck out four.

Stephen Pryor (3-3) took over with one out in the sixth and continued the shutout string. He worked 3 2/3 innings and allowed just one hit. He didn't walk a batter and struck out six.

After Tennessee Tech pitchers tossed back-to-back shutouts Saturday, the visiting Panthers didn't wait long before getting on the scoreboard with five in the top of the first Sunday.

Curt Restko and Zach Borensein walked to get things underway and Ben Thoma beat out a perfectly placed bunt to load the bases. Alex Gee singled up the middle to score Restko, and the second run came home on a groundout.

Cam Strang singled to score Thoma and make it 3-0, bringing Choate in from the bullpen. Ryan Dineen's sacrifice bunt toward second allowed Gee to score and Gerik Wallsten finished the rally with a single up the middle, plating Strang. It was the only hit allowed by Choate, who got out of the inning with a strikeout.

EIU starter Josh Mueller was untouchable into the sixth inning, holding Tech scoreless through four before the Golden Eagles notched two unearned runs in the fifth. Chad Hayes and Zephan Guyear singled and Austin Wulf reached on an error to load the bases with one out.

Mueller walked Tate McMillan for the first run, but got a huge out when he struck out the nation's home run leader, A.J. Kirby-Jones, on a 2-2 pitch. Oberacker drew a two-out walk for the second run, before Mueller got the final out on a strikeout to leave the bases loaded.

With Pryor stifling the Panther hitters, the Golden Eagles got one run back in the bottom of the eighth to make it 5-3. Oberacker, who finished the game 3-for-4 with three RBI and a walk, singled sharply to center to start the frame and raced all the way around to third when the ball got through in the outfield for a two-base error. He scored on a groundout as reliever Brent McNeil got out of the inning without further trouble.

Pryor put the Panthers down in order in the ninth, setting the stage for the winning rally, as EIU brought in closer Dillon Roark. He got the first out on a pop fly, but Guyear laced a line drive to left. Wulf bounced a ball up the middle that went for a single when it was mishandled behind the base, putting two runners aboard, and Tate McMillan's blooper to left was just out of the reach of the diving Thomas, allowing Guyear to score and make it 5-4.

A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, so EIU chose to intentionally walk Kirby-Jones with one out to load the bases, and Oberacker bounced the first pitch up the middle for the two-run single and the victory.

In addition to the 3-for-4 effort from Oberacker, McMillan went 3-for-3 with two RBI and Guyear had two hits. Five different Panthers had one hit apiece.

The Golden Eagles will visit Middle Tennessee State Tuesday night for a 6 p.m. non-conference game against the Blue Raiders. Following that, Tech will return to OVC play by hosting Morehead State next weekend in a three-game series with play starting at 1 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.