May 27, 2010

Oh, Henry! Tech tops EKU 7-4 in OVC Tourney behind pitching ace

View comments by Matt Bragga and Lee Henry (on You Tube)

JACKSON, Tenn. – Lee Henry was absolutely determined to finish what he started.

Even as his pitch count soared past 150, the Tennessee Tech senior was not gong to be denied reaching the finish line. Even after Eastern Kentucky had rallied to tie the game in the top of the seventh, the Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year looked to his teammates to pull him through.

The Golden Eagles scored three in the bottom of the seventh and Henry tossed a complete-game, five-hitter to lead Tech to a 7-4 victory Thursday night (and early Friday morning) in the 2010 OVC Baseball Tournament at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn.

Even after EKU put two runners aboard in the ninth, Henry never considered coming out of the game.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “I've been in situations like that all my career. I know that's what you have to do, you've got to get going, get through adversity, you've got to push through and do your stuff and that's what I do.”

The No. 1 seeded Golden Eagles (30-23) advance to the winner's bracket final to play second-seeded Jacksonville State Friday at 7 p.m. Winning the opening game was crucial, according to Tech coach Matt Bragga.

“It's important, no question about that,” Bragga said. “Any time you play in a tournament you want to win that first game. We came out and played a little flat tonight, but old Lee Henry, boy he's a competitor and he did a great job and then offensively, we got some clutch hitting when we needed it.”

Winners of five consecutive tournament games, the Golden Eagles are bidding to become the first team to win back-to-back OVC Tournament titles since 1995. The defending tourney champs, Tech won four games last year to advance to the NCAA Regional. 

Bragga's team is now just two wins from doing it again, but the first win took some dramatic turns.

“I think our guys just gutted it out,” Bragga said. “EKU hung in there. They had a long day. They played at 9 this morning and had a ninth-inning win, and for them to get down 4-0 and fight back like that, well that is impressive. I mean they really worked hard.

“But then for our guys to answer, with three runs in the seventh was great,” he said. “I think our guys gutted it out and we competed well and did what we had to do.”
 
A.J. Kirby-Jones, Chad Oberacker and Ben Burgess each delivered three hits to lead Tech's 13-hit attack, but it was a two-run double in the seventh by Devin Rivers that proved to be the game-winning swing.

His drive into the power alley in right center field scored Kirby-Jones and Oberacker, putting Tech on top 6-4.

Henry, who entered the game with the lowest ERA in the OVC at 2.77, saw that drop to 2.68 after allowing just two earned runs in nine innings of work. He scattered five hits, walked four and struck out eight in claiming his sixth consecutive win to improve to 7-3. 

“That's what I came out here to do,” Henry said. “I just wanted to come out here and work and give our team the best opportunity to win. That's what I do. I'm a competitor. I go out there to win and try to do my best and give my all for Tennessee Tech.”

Despite waiting nearly three extra hours to start their first tourney game, the Golden Eagles looked sharp in jumping to a 2-0 lead in the first inning.

A light malfunction at the stadium on Wednesday forced the league to move the second game of the opening day to Thursday morning. That pushed the three Thursday games back, and two extra inning contests wreaked even more havoc on the schedule.

Henry threw the game's first pitch at 9:58 p.m. He notched his eighth srikeout to end the game at 12:48 a.m. on Friday.

Kirby-Jones, an All-America candidate who was the MVP of last year's OVC Tournament, cranked his 25th home run of the season to ignite Tech's offense. It came on a two-strike pitch with two outs in the bottom of the first off EKU starter Paul Duncan (5-5). 

Oberacker, ranked fourth in the nation with a .455 batting average, followed with a base hit and rounded the bags quickly to score on a double to right field by Burgess to make it a 2-0 lead.

The Golden Eagles tacked on single runs in the third and fourth innings to build the lead to 4-0. Burgess got his second RBI in the third and Chad Oberacker's school-record 29th double of the season plated the fourth run.

Henry held Eastern Kentucky scoreless through the first four innings before the Colonels scored an unearned run in the top of the fifth to make it 4-1.

Ryan Faidley clocked a solo home run in the top of the sixth, his 12th of the year, to close the gap to 4-2.
Duncan settled down and kept his team in the game by holding Tech scoreless through the fifth and sixth innings.

In the EKU seventh, Henry walked catcher Joey Stevens and Dustin Dunlop poked a base hit to center field. A sacrifice bunt advanced the runners into scoring position and a sacrifice fly scored Stevens to bring EKU within one. The second unearned run of the game trotted home on a Tech fielding error to tie the game at 4-4.

As the clock ticket past midnight, the new day brought new momentum for the Golden Eagles in the bottom of the seventh. Kirby-Jones, Oberacker and Burgess each punched a base hit to load the bases, the third hit of the contest for each. That signaled the end of the line for Duncan after 130 pitches, bringing right-hander Matt Harris on in relief.

Rivers greeted him by cranking the crucial two-run double, giving Tech the 6-4 lead. Austin Wulf, who stretched his hitting streak to eight games by going 2-for-4, added an RBI infield single to score Burgess with the final run.

Duncan was charged with the loss for EKU, working 6 1/3 innings and allowing all seven runs on 11 hits He walked two and struck out six. Harris went 2/3 of an inning, allowing two hits and one walk before Austin Rexroat pitched a perfect eighth inning.

Friday's came will be broadcast on the Golden Eagle Sports Network via Free Teamline, and can be heard on the telephone or the Internet.