Schedule altered so Tech's starting time
Editor's note: A malfunction of the stadium lights on Wednesday caused the cancellation of the first-round game between Murray State and Eastern Kentucky. That game will be played Thursday at 9 a.m., moving the entire schedule Thursday back. Tech's game, originally scheduled for a 7 p.m. start, will begin later -- perhaps 8 p.m. if things run smoothly in the first three games of the day. Please check TTUsports.com for updates.
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Better late than never is a phrase that truly epitomizes the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles baseball team as the post-season commences. This week, they're headed to Jackson, Tennessee to compete as the No. 1 seed in the Ohio Valley Conference Championship tournament.
Headed into the tournament, the Golden Eagles hold a four game win streak, one game shy of tying their season high five-game streak. Watching Tech over the past few weeks, one would be hard-pressed to doubt their talent and potential going into the post-season. However, their regular season very obviously developed through game-by-game improvements and adjustments that allowed for a late season rally to the top spot.
Tech didn't compete in its first OVC contest until April 2nd against Jacksonville State, at which point their overall record was 11-14. On April 6th, Tech head coach Matt Bragga earned his 150th career win a road victory over Lipscomb. The next day, the Golden Eagles finished the sweep of the Bisons for the first of six brooms this season, but faltered in conference contests.
The Golden Eagles went 0-5 in their first five conference match-ups, shouldering a sweep at Jacksonville and a doubleheader sweep by Southeast Missouri on the road within the first two weeks of April.
The double-dip sweep at SEMO seemed to be the turnaround for Tech though. The following day, the lineup put up 12 runs to SEMO's eight, snapping their five-game in-conference losing streak.
And they never looked back.
The series finale win in Cape Girardeau launched an eleven game in-conference string of wins for the Golden Eagles as they went on to brush Eastern Illinois, Morehead State and Austin Peay under the rug, tacking on a double-header sweep over UT-Martin for good measure to bring their record to 25-22 overall and 11-5 in the OVC.
Over the course of the season, the Golden Eagles have developed a lineup comprised of nine players batting over .300 with a team average of .329, ranking third in the OVC. They lead the conference with an on-base percentage of .421, in total plate appearances with 2209 and in walks with 245. Additionally, they hold the OVC's no. 2 spot in doubles with 120 and total hits with 602.
Golden Eagle center fielder Chad Oberacker boasts an outstanding .455 batting average to lead Tech and the OVC. He has 33 multi-hit games this season and has become only the fourth player in Tech history to bring in over 60 RBI in a single season. Oberacker also leads the OVC in hits (101) and doubles and ranks third with an OBP of .527.
When he bats cleanup for the Golden Eagles, they have a record of 18-6. His longest hitting streak of the season reached 14 games, and he has only gone hitless in two of 52 games played in 2010.
Tech's patience and persistence at the plate has increased, as they took six wins this season with their last at-bats of the game. They have outscored opponents in the fifth inning by a 60-43 margin, 58-45 in the sixth and 47-25 seventh inning. By the time the Golden Eagles finish the eighth inning, they can nearly guarantee a victory, taking the W in 20 of 22 games in which they lead after the eighth.
In the last ten games that Tech has put up double digits in the run column, they've been undefeated, and maintain a record of 17-2 over the course of the season when scoring in double figures.
En route to double figures Tech will generally clock a few four-baggers, and boast an 11-1 record in games when they hit two or more longballs. Junior A.J. Kirby-Jones is ranked fourth in the NCAA in home runs with 24 this season, 49 in his career.
He also holds top honors for career RBI's (185) and intentional walks (17) while ranking second in Tech's career record books with a slugging percentage of .664 and walks with 125. Kirby-Jones holds the no. 3 spot in doubles with 46 in his career.
In 2010, both Kirby-Jones and Oberacker have reached base safely in 48 of Tech's 52 games. Kirby-Jones contributed 71 hits – 40 of which were for extra bases – and walked 55 times and been hit by pitch eight times. Oberacker has never dropped below a .388 in the box, and has batted as high as .460. Both players have been named first team all-OVC and are 2010 All-America candidates.
Junior Casanova Donaldson has combined with teammates Kirby-Jones and Oberacker to post 46 multi-RBI games in 2010, and has raised his batting average over the past two months by 46 points to a .337.
Another late-season rally by Ben Burgess has fueled the Golden Eagles toward their post-season goals. Burgess has hit .316 in the past 32 games, lifting his average from .175 on March 21 to .266 currently. He has hit two home runs in each of the two last games.
Putting up stats like these makes it easy to believe that the Golden Eagles have yet to be shut-out this season, scoring at least one run in all 52 games so far, and blanking four opponents along the way.
While their offense is undoubtedly impressive, the Golden Eagle defense provides the backbone for the team. Overall, Tech leads the OVC in fielding with a percentage of .966. When the pitching staff holds opposing batters to five runs or less they hold a record of 19-1, a statistic that improves to 10-0 when adversaries score two runs or less.
OVC Pitcher of the Year Lee Henry leads the Golden Eagles with a low ERA of 2.47, and is tied in second place for the winningest two-year pitcher in Tech history with 15 wins. He pitched three complete games in 2010 and is 5-0 in his last five games. During those games, he pitched 32 2/3 innings and fanned 36 batters.
Senior starter Adam Liberatore leads Tech with 12 starts and maintains a 6-4 record in 2010. He has struck out at least five batters in eight of his starts and recorded a season-best 12 strikeouts in a complete-game, 4-0 shutout over EIU.
Junior Chason Choate has come on strong toward the end of the season as well, and recently made the best of only his third start of the season to pitch seven scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks in a crucial series finale against Murray State. His efforts on that day earned him OVC honors as Pitcher of the Week. In his last eight appearances, the southpaw is 2-1 with two saves and a 2.37 ERA.
Reliever Stephen Pryor has come out of the bullpen to earn four saves this season. In 37 innings pitched this season, he's struck out 69 batters and logged a 4-2 record. Most impressively, Pryor has not allowed a home run by an Ohio Valley Conference opponent in 2010.
Freshmen Austin Wulf and Zephan Guyear have put up monumental numbers for the Golden Eagles this season as well. Guyear stepped in to play third base for an injured Devin Rivers and batted .325 with six doubles, a triple and three home runs. He has yet to bat below .300 this season, and Tech enjoyed a 6-1 record with Guyear at third. Rivers, since returning, has batted .390.
Wulf heads into the Championship Tournament as Tech's hottest hitter, running with a seven-game hitting streak. In these seven games, he's logged multiple hits in each and is batting .459 with 15 RBI. Close behind is shortstop Chad Hayes, who has batted .444 since April 25 and has been on base safely in 14 of his last 15 games. He has also been error free in 24 of the past 25 games, and is currently running with a 14-game error-free streak.
Recently named 2010 OVC Coach of the Year, Bragga will lead his Golden Eagles into the tournament with a 14-6 OVC record (29-23 overall). Having earned a first-round BYE, they will play Thursday evening at 7:00pm at Pringle's Park in Jackson. Fans who cannot make it to Jackson can follow the live stats here.