By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
MARTIN, Tenn. – It took some extra time, but the Tennessee Tech baseball team capped a doubleheader sweep of Ohio Valley Conference foe UT Martin in the league's opening weekend Friday. The Golden Eagles (11-5, 3-0) completed the three-game series sweep after posting victories of 4-3 and 9-6 (in 10 innings) over the Skyhawks (6-7, 0-3).
Tech did the majority of its scoring in the second inning, plating three runners for the early 3-0 advantage. The Golden Eagles started the frame with back-to-back walks to juniors Ryan Flick and Chase Chambers. Senior catcher Chris Brown followed, ripping an RBI single up the middle to kick off the action.
After a walk to junior Collin Harris loaded the bases, senior second baseman Matt Jones grounded into a double play, but still allowed Tech to score its second run of the frame. The Golden Eagles plated their third of the inning during a shining moment for rookie Cody Littlejohn. Making his first career start – filling in at third base for an injured Trevor Putzig – the freshman laced a single off the first baseman for his first career hit and RBI.
Starting on the hill for Tech, senior Jake Usher tossed five and one third innings, allowing just two earned runs and three total while scattering five hits and three walks. The right-handed hurler struck out six Skyhawk batters and was eventually lifted in the sixth for Roberts.
UT Martin chipped away one run at a time, snagging solo scores in the bottom of the third, fifth and sixth innings.
Sophomore Kevin Strohschein lifted the Golden Eagles back in front in the top of the seventh, coming up with a huge base knock with two outs and two runners on. The right fielder clipped a single through the right side of the infield, driving in Littlejohn for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run.
From that point on, Roberts took over wrapping up the final three and two thirds innings to capture his first victory of the season. The youngster allowed just three hits and single walk over that span, striking out five Skyhawk batters, including the final one of the game.
Littlejohn paced the Tech offense in game one, finishing 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Brown tallied two hits in four at bats, also driving in one and scoring once.
Game two started off well for the Golden Eagles, as Flick singled through the left side to drive in David Garza, who had singled earlier in the frame. Flick doubled the Tech advantage in the third, peppering a solo bomb to left center field in an impressive eight-pitch at bat.
UT Martin answered in the fourth, crossing home plate three times to take a 3-2 lead and chase Tech senior starter Chase Burkett from the contest. The right-hander lasted three and one third innings, allowing three hits, two earned runs and three total runs before giving way to Travis Moths.
Moths closed out the fourth, paving the way for the Tech offense to take back over. Hot as a bottle rocket in July, Flick led off the fifth with double down the right field line. Chambers followed by coaxing a walk to put two on for Brown. The slugger made the Skyhawks pay for allowing the early base runners, firing a ball into orbit for a three-run jack job to left field for a 5-3 Tech lead.
On the hill, Moths struck out the side in the bottom half of the fifth, despite the UT Martin bats loading the bases with a couple of hits and a walk. The Skyhawks would not strand base runners in the sixth, however, scoring twice on a two-run double with two outs.
Senior Kit Fowler came on to close the sixth, fanning a batter for the final out. Moths exited the contest after two and one third innings in relief and allowing four hits, four earned runs and four walks. He also struck out four UT Martin batters.
The Golden Eagles took back control in the seventh, plating one on an RBI single to right field from Matt Jones, but UT Martin had an answer again, scoring their own run in the bottom of the eighth to knot the score at 6-6.
After trading zeroes on the scoreboard in the ninth, the two in-state foes headed to an extra frame where the Tech offense simply took over.
Littlejohn led off the frame with a single up the middle and sophomore Alex Junior laid down a sacrifice bunt to move him to second base. Garza reached base on a fielding error at first base, advancing Littlejohn to third and putting runners on the corners, setting up Strohschein with the chance to play hero yet again.
The All-American came through, again, ripping an RBI single to third base for the go-ahead run. The Golden Eagles added some insurance with the next two at bats, as Flick and Chambers each smacked RBI singles to give Tech a 9-6 lead.
Sophomore Ty King took over for the final frame looking to clinch the sweep for the Golden Eagles. The right-handed reliever came through, striking out two batters and forcing a foul ball out to garner his first career save. Fowler picked up the victory, his first of the season.
For the game, Flick had the biggest impact, finishing 4-for-6 with three RBI and two runs scored, not mention just a triple shy of the cycle for the second time in the series. Brown also notched three RBI and joined Strohschein, Chambers and Jones by posting a multi-hit game.
Following seven straight games on the road, the Golden Eagles will return home to Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex on Tuesday, Mar. 14. Tech will play host to a two-game midweek series against Illinois State, starting with a 6 p.m. CT contest on Tuesday. Game two is set for a 3 p.m. first pitch on Wednesday.
Photo by Tony Marable