By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – As if further proof was needed that the Tennessee Tech baseball team presented arguably the best offense in the nation during the 2014 season, the NCAA recently released its final statistical champions for the year with the Golden Eagles claiming three crowns as a team and an individual crown behind the bat of senior Brandon Thomasson.
Putting together its second straight 40-win season (which tied the school record set by the 2013 squad), the Tech bats were truly on another level in 2014, leading the nation in scoring with 8.3 runs per game. The Golden Eagles struck for 10 or more runs in a whopping 24 contests during the year, including seven games of 15 or more scores.
"To me, scoring is the most important offensive category," head coach Matt Bragga said. "It's way more important than batting average. Way more substantial than home runs. Slugging and on base percentage are important since it leads to more runs, but scoring itself is the name of the game. It's something that we've been very good at here for quite some time, so leading the entire nation in runs per game is a monumental achievement both by this team in the present and for this team for the future.
Also conquered by the squad was the race for the most home runs per game. It's fair to say, with no pun intended, that the Golden Eagles crushed its competition in the category, driving out 1.41 home runs per contest, and incredible .34 more than any other team in the nation. Tech finished with a school-record tying 83 round-trippers on the year, beating the next highest total of 68 by Louisiana-Lafayette (which played nine more contests than Tech and earned a ranking of as high No. 1 in the nation during the season) by 15 long balls.
One final crown earned by the Golden Eagles was that of owning the highest slugging percentage. Tech batters mashed the ball to a tune of a .495 slugging mark, finishing as one of just two teams with over 1,000 total bases (1,047).
"I give a lot of credit to our guys," Bragga said. "We had a ton of great players that just flat out produced offensively all season long. Our coaches did a phenomenal job developing and getting the most out of our guys every day. I'm just really proud of every one of them."
Tech also finished in the top 15 of nine other offensive categories in 2014, including: second in runs scored (488), third in bases on balls (312), third in on base percentage (.409), fifth in hits (655), seventh in fielding percentage (.979), eighth in batting average (.309), ninth in doubles (121), 12th in doubles per game (2.05), and 12th in sacrifice flies (35).
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 (8.3), 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). The defense, for the second straight year, posted a record .979 fielding percentage, the best mark in the league.
"Our lead over our opponents in home runs of 83-31 is just such a substantial number," said Bragga. "Those 52 homers was the widest margin in the country by far. And that's a big deal. I also think our scoring margin per game of 3.4 runs was third in the nation. That's awesome because you can attribute it to not just the offense, but the pitching and defense as well. And our defense was amazing after finishing seventh in fielding percentage. It just shows that even with how good we were offensively, we just as good across the board in many aspects. I'm just really proud of what we accomplished."
One of several key contributors to the offense in 2014, senior Brandon Thomasson was statistical champion in two categories including total runs batted in and home runs per game. An outfielder who earned numerous postseason accolades and honors, including three All-American nods, Thomasson crushed 22 home runs on the year. He finished just one behind National Player of the Year A.J. Reed, but led every player in the nation with an impressive .38 dingers per game.
In addition to leading the nation via the long ball, Thomasson also finished on top of every other Division I player with a school-record 76 RBI.
"Brandon Thomasson," Bragga sighed with pride. "To win national statistical championships in both home runs per game and RBI is truly amazing and a testament to how hard he worked every day. And you could say that about all of our guys really. I'm really proud of Brandon and all of our players. They're just a great group and those who are gone will be missed."
He 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. Thomasson's 22 bombs were 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).
In June, Thomasson, joined by four other teammates, heard his name called in the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, going to the Kansas City Royals in the ninth round.
"I mean, if you do the rough math of 10 guys per team with 300 teams in the nation," Bragga added, "that's 3,000 players that played pretty much every day and tried to go and win those titles. And Brandon outslugged and beat them all. And then to get drafted in the ninth round? That is a big, big deal."
*The NCAA does not name statistical team champions in total home runs or home run margin.