By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
OXFORD, Ala. – A performance for the ages, as well as a brilliant relief appearance, propelled the Tennessee Tech baseball team (38-19) to a 14-9 victory over Southeast Missouri (29-25) in the team's first game of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament at Choccolocco Park Thursday afternoon.
The No. 1 seeded Golden Eagles out-slugged the No. 5 seeded Redhawks thanks in large part to one of the more incredible single performances with a bat, not just in TTU history, but in OVC Tournament history as well. Junior designated hitter Ryan Flick finished the contest with tournament records of three home runs and nine RBI in five trips to the plate.
His three home runs tied for the Tech program mark with A.J. Kirby-Jones (2010) and Daniel Miles (2013) while his nine RBI also tied a school record, set by teammate Kevin Strohschein last season.
Right-handed pitcher Travis Moths turned in an incredible effort out of the bullpen, completing the final five frames on 88 pitches. The junior scattered six hits with no walks and just a solo home run allowed while striking out a season-high eight batters.
Southeast Missouri made the Golden Eagles work early in the contest, plating two runners right out of the gates. Tech answered in kind in the bottom of the first, with Flick hammering a three-run shot to right field for the lead following a leadoff double by Alex Junior and walk to Trevor Putzig. Two batters later, senior catcher Chris Brown crushed a solo bomb to center field for a 4-2 lead.
The Redhawks turned in another four runs in the top of the second, retaking the top spot on the scoreboard, 6-4. This time, Tech had to wait before it could respond, but it wasn't a very long break.
In the bottom of the third, Putzig drew a leadoff walk on four pitches. Two batters later, Flick took to the dish and waited for his pitch. On a 1-2 offering, the slugger uncorked a two-run blast to right field for his second long ball of the game and to tie the game at 6-6.
SEMO inched ahead again in the fourth, scoring once for what would represent its final lead of the day. Tech answered the call again, starting with a leadoff double down the left field line by second baseman Matt Jones. Two quick outs and 1-2 count to Junior seemed daunting to the Golden Eagle fans, but the center fielder lifted their spirits with a single up the middle and a game-tying RBI.
A follow-up single by Putzig put two runners on with another monster bat on its way to the plate. Sophomore right fielder Kevin Strohschein came up big with the RBI opportunity, ripping a single to left field for an 8-7 advantage.
Once again, the Redhawks attacked, loading the bases with no outs to force starter Michael Wood from the contest. Moths came on and struck out the first batter he faced. He then induced a line out to left field, but the tying run came on with the sac fly. He ended the inning with a monster, bases-loaded strikeout.
Tech finished the fifth without a score, but the sixth proved to be economical for the Golden Eagles as the team quickly went to work with the sticks. Shortstop David Garza led off the frame with a single up the middle and sophomore Nick Osborne earned a pinch-hit walk right after. A fielding error on a rocket shot to shortstop by Junior scored Garza for the Golden Eagle lead, but Tech wasn't done.
Strohschein walked two batters later setting up Flick with the bases loaded and a chance at history. The Bluff City, Tenn. native delivered with arguably the biggest swing of his career, blasting a grand slam to right center field for a 13-8 lead and two OVC Tournament records.
Moths took over from there, highlighted by his striking out the side in the eighth. He allowed a solo home run in the ninth after the Golden Eagles had made it a 14-8 lead in the seventh, but he forced a pop up to Garza in shallow left field for the final out of the frame. Moths moved to 4-1 on the year with the victory.
Junior finished the contest 2-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBI. Putzig tallied two hits and two runs scored in three at bats while walking twice. Jones captured a 2-for-5 showing, as did Garza. Flick led the way with his nine RBI and three home runs.
The Golden Eagles will continue their OVC Tournament run Friday afternoon with a 3 p.m. CT contest against the winner of No. 2 seeded Morehead State and No. 6 seeded Murray State.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information