By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
JACKSON, Tenn. – A storybook ending highlighted the finale of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship, but unfortunately for the Tennessee Tech baseball team, that "Cinderella Story" belonged to Jacksonville State as the Gamecocks won their record sixth straight elimination game, defeating the Golden Eagles, 4-2, to capture the 2014 OVC Tournament Title.
A true pitcher's duel for much of the contest, Tech starter David Hess turned in an incredible performance on just two day's rest, tossing five innings while allowing just one run and three hits. The junior also struck out seven while walking four. He became just the third Golden Eagle hurler to ever record 100 or more strikeouts in a single season, finishing the year with 104. He also became the first Tech pitcher to make 16 starts in a single season.
But Gamecock hurler Zachary Fowler shined just as brightly if not more. On three days of rest, the junior starter finished seven and two thirds innings for Jax State, allowing five hits and just a two-run blip on an otherwise great day on the mound. He struck out six while surrendering just one walk and picking up his seventh win of the year.
The Golden Eagles took an early 2-0 lead, grabbing the advantage after a huge two-run home run by senior slugger Zach Stephens. The bomb, which was the second of the tournament for the first baseman, marked the 19th of the year for Stephens, as well as the 62nd of his historic career. He would finish the day with two hits in four at bats.
Hess' one blemish on the day came off the bat of Michael Bishop. The leadoff man banged a huge extra base hit off the left center field wall, and after an awkward ricochet, came all round the bases for a rare inside-the-park home run to cut the Tech lead to 2-1.
One inning later, pinch hitter Joe McGuire came up huge for the Gamecocks, tying the game with an RBI single to left center field after an impressive at bat. Jacksonville State took the lead for good in the bottom of the seventh, using an RBI single from Ryan Sebra and subsequent RBI hit by Andrew Bishop to grab the final score of 4-2.
All-OVC First Team member and Gamecock closer Travis Stout capped off an incredible tournament, collecting his fourth save of the tournament and 15th of the year.
Both Stephens and centerfielder Jake Rowland tallied multiple hits while Stephens and Zarzour scored the two runs of the Golden Eagles. Seth Lucio suffered his third loss of the season, striking out three while giving up three runs and six hits in one and two third innings of relief. Chris Chism finished the game, covering the final one and one third innings with just one hit allowed and three strikeouts.
Earning OVC All-Tournament nods were Hess, Daniel Miles, and Dylan Bosheers. In two starts over just four days, Hess allowed just a single earned run, scattering five hits over 11 innings on the mound. He struck out 13 as well while holding batters to a .135 batting average and earning a victory and no decision.
Bosheers batted .353 in four games, scoring four times while tallying six hits. He smashed a home run and double while driving in a team-high seven runners. Miles finished with a .313 average and .450 on base percentage, grabbing five hits and four walks. He scored four times while driving in six as well, smoking the first home run of the OVC Tournament.
While the loss certainly left bitter feelings for all around the Tech baseball program, not a single person can deny the success still accomplished by the Golden Eagles in their 2014 campaign. At the end of the day, this program accomplished more than most teams can dream of. For the second straight season, the Tech squad tied a program record with 40 wins, becoming just the second OVC team ever to put together back-to-back 40-win seasons.
This incredible group of young men, who will go down among the best to ever suit up in the purple and gold, collectively broke seven school record and tied three more. Arguably the most prolific offense ever in the history of Tennessee Tech, the 2014 Golden Eagles set new standards for at bats (2,117), runs scored (488), runs per game (8.27), RBI (450), and walks (312). The pitching and defense was also historic, breaking the school marks for innings pitched (528.1) and putouts (1,585).
This year's group also tied the Tech record for single-season home runs blasting a nation's best 83. The defense, for the second straight year, posted a record .979 fielding percentage, the best mark in the league. Both contributed to tying the school's single-season wins mark of 40.
The eight senior members of the Golden Eagles squad leave a lasting legacy behind, becoming the program's winningest senior class with 126 victories.
Among those seniors, first baseman Zach Stephens put together one of the greatest four-year careers in the history of the entire Ohio Valley Conference. Through four seasons, the Hixson, Tenn. native shattered three OVC and seven Tech career records. Among those to fall were 30-year-old marks for home runs and RBI, of which Stephens finished his storied career with 62 and 229, respectively. He also totaled more bases than anyone in league history, finishing with 529.
In a school-most 222 career games played, the slugger topped the at bats mark by nearly 80 (890), the runs scored mark by nine (192), the hits record by 22 (285), the total bases record by a staggering 120 (529), the home run record by 11 (62), and the RBI mark by nearly 40 (229). He also finished second with 52 career doubles and third with 126 walks. This season, Stephens set the single season at bats record, totaling 250 in the 59-game campaign.
Brandon Thomasson finished an incredible two-year stint, clubbing 34 home runs after transferring in as a junior. His 34 long balls sits third all-time in Tech history. He broke the Golden Eagle single-season mark for RBI, driving in 76 on the year, ranking first in the nation. Thomasson also crushed 22 bombs to finish with the second most in one year by a Tech player.
He also cracked the top ten for a single year in at bats (244), runs scored (60), slugging (.721), hits (82), doubles (20), triples (4), home runs (22), and total bases (176).
Daniel Miles capped an unreal two-year stop with the Golden Eagles as one of the best third basemen to don the purple and gold. He batted .380 on the year, leading the Tech squad with 90 hits to rank third in single-season history. He also scored 67 runs and belted 11 home runs, giving him 23 on the year to crack the top 10 in Tech career history.
One of the better defensive catchers in the nation, Jordan Parris threw out a staggering 46 percent of runners attempting to steal on him this season. He broke out the power in a huge way on the year, belting a personal-best five home runs while driving in 30.
A former walk-on after transferring to Tech as a junior, Zach Zarzour became one of the best second basemen in the conference, batting .336 this season as the leadoff man for the Golden Eagles. He tallied 82 hits while scoring 56 runs and drawing 37 walks. He held down a very impressive defensive middle infield with junior Dylan Bosheers.
A native of Cookeville, former transfer Ross Spurgeon wrapped up the 2014 season with a 3.68 ERA and very solid 4-1 record. He made 23 appearances while tossing 36.2 innings. He struck out 38 in those outing, walking just 19.
Garrett Baugh, who spent much of the season recovering from knee surgery, made very solid appearances down the stretch, playing in three of the final eight games. He tossed three innings on the year, walking none and striking out two.
One more former transfer, reliever Stanton Taylor, also spent a large chunk of the year trying to recapture last season's magic after undergoing Tommy John surgery last April. He made 23 appearances with 30 innings pitched. The Hawley, Texas native struck out 35 while walking just 17.
With the June 5 MLB Amateur Draft, countless post season awards, and final statistical rankings all still left on the radar, the news on the 2014 Tennessee Tech baseball team is far from over. Link up.