By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
JACKSON, Tenn. – With his team leaning on his every pitch and a spot in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Championship game hanging in the balance, Tennessee Tech freshman pitcher Evan Fraliex saved arguably his best performance of the season to lead the Golden Eagles (40-17) to an incredible 9-2 victory over the No. 1 seeded Southeast Missouri Redhawks (37-19) Friday night.
In a match-up that fans across the OVC had anticipated from the beginning of the tournament, the high-powered offenses from both squads were largely held in check for much of the game. The Tech bats did eventually break through the hump for a huge five-run ninth inning to all but ensure the victory. With the win, Tech tied the program's single-season record for wins, claiming its 40th victory of the season after winning 40 games just a season ago.
The Golden Eagles need just one more victory to claim their fourth OVC Tournament title and will get the chance for that win tomorrow at 4 p.m. CT against the winner of the loser's bracket final between No. 1 Southeast Missouri and No. 3 Jacksonville State. That game will start at approximately noon.
Tech becomes only the second program in OVC history to post back-to-back 40-win seasons, joining Austin Peay (2012 and 2013).
A true freshman from Lexington, Ky., Fraliex (below, left) was nearly unhittable for much of the contest, tossing seven innings while scattering three hits and walk. He also struck out four while surrendering just two earned runs in the ball game.
At one point, Fraliex had retired 14 consecutive Redhawk batters, allowing one hit through the first six innings of the contest, containing one of the nation's most potent offenses in a true pitcher's duel.
Southeast Missouri starter Travis Hayes, named co-OVC Pitcher of the Year earlier this week, was equally brilliant for much of the game, save one blip in the top of the third. The junior went an impressive eight innings with 11 strikeouts and held the mighty Tech offense to four runs, only three of them earned.
Both starters cruised through the first two frames with Hayes recording his fifth strikeout of the game to start the third inning. But like a flick of a switch, the Golden Eagle bats took over for a quick span of the contest, receiving a boost from perhaps one of the more unlikely heroes.
Dubbed a sparkplug because of his 5-foot-6 stature and ability to get on base, redshirt freshman Tyler Brazelton kicked off a crucial stretch of clutch hitting by the Tech offense. The young designated hitter ripped a first-pitch double to left field to kick off the three-run session.
Leadoff man Zach Zarzour followed by reaching on a fielding error by the Redhawks and senior slugger Zach Stephens loaded the bases with a single down the third base line. With a huge situation on his hands, Tech fortunately had its most consistent player of the year on his way to the box.
Senior Daniel Miles, named to the Midseason Golden Spikes Award Watch List and a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, provided yet another clutch at bat, blooping a single up the middle to drive in the first two runs of the game. Yet another senior slugger, Brandon Thomasson, provided the eventual game-winning score, following Miles with an RBI single through the left side.
Southeast Missouri did manage to scratch two runs across the board, plating the pair in the bottom of the seventh inning. But the Tech defense, which provided as many as seven "web gems" in the contest, came up clutch to end any further damage.
With runners on the corner and no outs, Fraliex dug deep, forcing the always threatening Derek Gibson to fly out. The out did result in a run as a sacrifice fly, giving the Redhawks their first score of the contest. After a stolen base by OVC Player of the Year Matt Tellor, the young Tech righty forced Andy Lennington to strike out swinging, fooling the third baseman on a breaking ball down and away.
Dalton Hewitt managed a RBI single up the middle to trim the Tech lead to just one run, but Miles ended the inning after making an incredible diving stop and throw to first for the third out of the seventh.
Tech found itself in need of a clutch hit in the eighth, boasting a runner on second but two outs on the scoreboard. Enter catcher Jordan Hopkins (below, right). The junior worked a full count before connecting on arguably the biggest hit of the night, and RBI triple to right center field that provided a much-needed insurance run and gave the Golden Eagles a 4-2 lead headed to the bottom of the eighth.
Junior closer Seth Lucio, banged around in his last few outings, looked as strong as ever, entering the eighth inning with a two-run lead against one of the most dangerous teams in the country. He promptly set the Redhawks down in order, striking out the second batter he faced with help from infield on the other two outs.
After being forced to leave the contest due to a very high pitch count, Travis Hayes was forced to watch as the Golden Eagle offense clicked in the final inning of the game, exploding for five runs thanks to a huge two-run double from Thomasson and two-run single from junior Dylan Bosheers.
With the RBI, Thomasson not only moved into the first in the nation in the category, he also broke the Tech single-season record with his 76th run driven in of the year.
The seven-run advantage proved more than enough for Lucio as the Tech defense flashed the leather one more time to close the game, turning a double play after a leadoff hit and finishing the contest with a ground out to Miles at third base.
Thomasson led all batters with three RBI on the night, going 2-for-5 with a run scored as well as making a sick diving grab in right field. Miles drove in two more runs after collecting four against Morehead State the day before. He tallied three hits in five at bats while also scoring once and providing two marvelous defensive stops.
Bosheers made unreal defensive plays at shortstop on two occasions, each time sliding to grab the ball before releasing a laser quick throw from his knees and fading away from first base. He went 1-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. Freshman Anthony El Chibani also had a highlight-reel catch, diving head first towards the left field line to steal a hit from the Redhawks. Tyler Brazelton grabbed two base knocks in three trips to the plate, scoring and walking once each.
Fraliex garnered his fourth victory of the year, moving to an impressive 4-0 on the year less than five days after being named to the OVC All-Freshman Team. Lucio collected his 10th save of the year with two innings pitched and just one baserunner allowed.
Fans can follow tomorrow's action live on the OVC Digital Network as well as on FM 106.1 The Eagle. Dylan Vazzano will provide the play-by-play while Rob Schabert will fill in with color commentary.