By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
OXFORD, Ala. – A great start with the bats and fantastic outing on the hill lifted the Tennessee Tech baseball team (39-19) to an 8-6 victory over Morehead State (36-22) on the third day of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Friday afternoon at Choccolocco Park.
With the win, the No. 1 seeded Golden Eagles advance to the OVC Tournament Championship game on Saturday at 4 p.m. CT. Tech will face off with the winner of the day's first contest between No. 2 Morehead State and the winner of Friday night's contest between No. 3 Belmont and No. 6 Murray State.
The Golden Eagle offense got off to a quick start in the contest, using a hefty swing from a well-known face around the tournament. One day after setting the OVC Tournament record with three home runs, not to mention nine RBI, junior designated hitter Ryan Flick connected on another pitch and delivered a splash. The Bluff City, Tenn. native hammered a two-run shot to right field in the bottom of the first with two outs, giving Tech the early 2-0 lead.
A little two-out rally in the second led to Tech's next score, with sophomore left fielder Nick Osborne ripping a double down the left field line before a single to right center field by junior Collin Harris drove him in.
Morehead State answered with two runs in the top of the third, using a bases loaded RBI single by Eli Boggess to start the run. A sacrifice fly to right field by Braxton Morris did the work for the other run.
Tech returned to the plate and provided more cushion on the lead, taking advantage of a fielding error in right field to plate one. Later in the frame, senior catcher Chris Brown singled through the left side for another marker and a 5-2 lead.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Golden Eagles once again found themselves in place to score runs, with sophomore right fielder Kevin Strohschein at the dish with the bases juiced. The 2016 OVC Player and Rookie of the Year delivered, working a 1-2 count full before peppering a two-run single through the right side to bump the lead to 7-2.
That advantage reached six runs following the sixth, as Brown pounded a long, sacrifice fly to deep center field to drive in Strohschein.
Senior starter Jake Usher turned in a brilliant outing on the day, holding the mighty Morehead State bats to just two runs on five hits through the first six innings. He limited the Eagles to the two runs in the third, despite the bases loaded with one out.
The right-hander then worked back-to-back 1-2-3 frames in the fourth and fifth while his offense continued to provide support. After surrendering a leadoff hit in the sixth, the Tech defense came up huge with a 6-4-3 double play by shortstop David Garza and second baseman Matt Jones. Usher fanned the final batter of the frame to continue his hot start.
Following a leadoff walk issued in the seventh, Usher punched out the next batter and then forced a fly ball out to right field to move closer to getting out of the inning. Morehead State had other plans, as Niko Hulsizer smacked a two-run shot to tie the OVC single-season record for home runs (26) set by Golden Eagle great A.J. Kirby-Jones back in the 2010 season.
Sophomore closer Ethan Roberts came on for the final out of the frame, gathering a four-pitch strikeout to send the game to the stretch. He gathered three straight outs after issuing a leadoff walk in the eighth, moving Tech to just six outs from a spot in the championship game.
Morehead State made it interesting in the ninth with a leadoff single to kick things off. Roberts forced Hulsizer to fly out to right center field for the first out of the frame, but Will Schneider delivered for the Eagles with a two-run shot to left field to cut the lead to 8-6.
A native of Sparta, Tenn. and the 2017 All-OVC First Team reliever, Roberts dug deep and struck out Boggess on six pitches. He forced Morris into a foul out to first baseman Chase Chambers on the next pitch to end the game and secure Tech's bid into the championship contest.
Usher moved to 5-2 on the year with six and two thirds innings of work and just four earned runs allowed. He struck out three while limiting the OVC's leader in batting average to just six hits.
Junior third baseman Trevor Putzig and Strohschein each enjoyed strong performances at the plate, with three hits apiece in a combined 10 at bats. Putzig scored three times in five at bats while Strohschein drove in two runs and scored once.
Flick and Brown each drove in two runs as well and Osborne scored twice while finishing 2-for-3 at the dish. Center fielder Collin Harris provided Tech's other RBI, completing the day 1-for-2.
Fans can follow the OVC Tournament championship game coverage on the OVC Digital Network and via radio on 106.1 The Eagle with Dylan Vazzano on the call.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information