By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A golden performance on the mound by sophomore David Hess and clutch moment at the plate by junior Daniel Miles led the Tennessee Tech baseball team (38-14, 23-5) to clinch a share of its eighth Ohio Valley Conference regular season title with an 8-5 win over the Belmont Bruins (36-17, 21-7) Thursday evening.
Trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Miles came to the plate with the bases loaded and changed the face of the contest with one swing of the bat, crushing a grand slam over the fence in left center field to give the Golden Eagles an 8-5 lead they would not relinquish because of Hess.
The righty actually entered the game with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, striking out the only batter he faced in that frame. After four more innings of work, his strikeout total had hit 11. Hess set down 11 of the 14 batters he faced on strikes, allowing just one hit and walking none in 4.1 innings of relief work.
As expected, the contest was exciting from very beginning. Drew Ferguson led off the game for Belmont with an infield hit. Jared Breen followed, doubling to left center field. The Bruins proved to be agressive, sending Ferguson around third to try and score. The Tech defense said no, however, as senior James Abraham played the ball off the wall perfectly and hurled a throw to sophomore Dylan Bosheers. The shortstop relayed the throw instantly, tossing a perfect ball to catcher Jordan Parris to nail the runner at home and prevent a run from scoring.
Belmont still managed to score a run in the inning, but the fantastic defensive play set the tone for how the game would be played and proved to be a big factor.
Junior slugger Zach Stephens tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the first inning, hammering a solo home run to left center field, his OVC-leading 14th of the year.
In the top of the third, Belmont struck for two more runs, using a solo home run from Jared Breen and RBI single from Judah Akers to take a 3-1 lead.
Once again, the Golden Eagles answered, this time in the fourth inning. Senior Austin Wulf led off the inning with a double down the right field line. After a walk by Brandon Thomasson, Miles drove Wulf in with an RBI single up the middle. Bosheers followed by getting hit by a pitch to load the bases. Abraham drove in the game-tying run with a sac fly to center field, and senior Michael Morris put Tech up 4-3 with an RBI single through the left side.
Belmont wasn't finished though. The Bruins scored twice in the top of the fifth, collecting RBI from Matt Beaty and Alec Diamond to go up 5-4.
It was the closest they got to winning the game as Miles crushed his 11th long ball and first grand slam of the year to put Tech up for good, 8-5.
Hess (7-2) earned his seventh win of the season with his career performance, lowering his ERA to 3.56 on the year. Miles finished the contest with five RBI and two runs scored on 2-for-4 hitting. Stephens went 2-for-3 in the game with two runs scored and a walk.
The win marked the 38th of the year for the Golden Eagles, just one shy of the program record of 39 set in 1997. It also was the 23rd OVC win on the season, tying the league record for single season conference wins with the 2008 Jacksonville State squad.
The Golden Eagles will look to win the OVC regular season crown outright on Friday as Tech remains just one win away from clinching the number one seed in the OVC Tournament. Friday's contest will begin at 3 p.m. CDT, a change from the originally scheduled 6 p.m. contest to try and beat impending weather. Fans are encouraged to come out and cheer on starting Cookeville native Ross Spurgeon as he looks to lead Tech to the outright OVC title.