By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Another night in Tallahassee provided another fantastic baseball game for the fans in the seats of Dick Howser Stadium on the campus of Florida State University. Unfortunately, unlike Friday evening, Saturday night ended with the opposition's fans elated as the No. 23 ranked Auburn Tigers defeated Tennessee Tech, 5-3.
Just 24 hours after turning in a performance for the ages, the Golden Eagles (41-20) locked in with the Tigers (37-24) in another instant classic battle.
The leather was flashed all over the diamond and often in the contest, the first instance coming in the bottom of the first. Auburn took the early 1-0 advantage after a leadoff single by Jonah Todd, sacrifice bunt by Luke Jarvis and RBI single down the right field line by Daniel Robert.
TTU right fielder Kevin Strohschein put up the first web gem of the game on the scoring play, gathering Robert's ball off the wall and firing a dart to shortstop David Garza to gun him down for the second out of the frame.
In the second, Tech answered with the bat of none other than junior designated hitter Ryan Flick. The slugger worked a 2-2 count before hammering the fifth offering by Casey Mize to center field, easily clearing the high fence for a solo home run to tie the game. It marked his career-high 19th of the year.
The Golden Eagles took the lead in the third, getting a little two-out rally going thanks to the speed of center fielder Alex Junior. The sophomore beat out a ground ball up the middle corralled by the second baseman, Jarvis. On the next pitch, junior third baseman Trevor Putzig laced a double down the right field line, sending Junior off to the races. The speedster rounded third and made a perfect slide into home plate, leaping in head first to the outside of the dish and just outside the reach of Auburn catcher Blake Logan.
Auburn returned the offense in the fourth, tying the ball game on an RBI double down the left field line. After Putzig speared a mammoth shot to the left side gap – seemingly saving at least one run, if not two – the Tigers plated two more on a single through the left side, taking a 4-2 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, Auburn seemed like it may get a two-out rally started as Josh Anthony clobbered a towering shot down the right field line. Tracking it the whole way was Strohschein, however, as the former National co-Freshman Player of the Year made a leaping grab at the wall to steal an extra base hit and end the frame.
The Golden Eagles kept that same defensive prowess working in their favor as they attempted a comeback. Senior catcher Chris Brown tossed out runners trying to swipe second twice, gunning one down in the bottom of the sixth and a second one in the bottom of the seventh.
In between, in the top of the seventh, Tech got one step closer to possibly tying the game thanks to first baseman Chase Chambers. The junior slugger clubbed his 18th home run of the season to center field, smashing a leadoff solo bomb on the third pitch he saw to cut the deficit to one.
It was as close as the Golden Eagles would get, however, as an eighth-inning solo home run by Jay Estes gave Auburn a 5-3 lead and starter Casey Mize completed his ninth inning of work with a base hit by Brown sprinkled among three strikeouts.
Mize proved effective against Tech, tossing a complete game with 12 strikeouts and just one walk.
"It was a good baseball game," head coach Matt Bragga said. "You tip your hat. I mean that's why (Casey) Mize is gonna make a lot of money next year. We saw exactly why. Their defense was phenomenal. Pitching and defense wins championships. Tonight, that's what they did; they showed championship-level caliber play as we knew they would. They're a good baseball team and you got a future first-round draft pick on the mound that was pretty good. I'm proud of our young men; I thought we battled like crazy."
Putzig led the Golden Eagle offense with two hits in four trips to the plate. Nick Osborne, Strohschein and Flick each had hits robbed away from them because of stellar defensive plays from Jarvis at second and Will Holland at shortstop.
On the hill, Jake Usher took the tough loss after three and a third innings with five hits and four earned runs allowed. His second strikeout of the game helped the Golden Eagles break the Ohio Valley Conference single-season record for punch outs by a pitching staff.
Senior Kit Fowler and sophomore Marcus Evey combined for the final four and two third innings on the hill. Fowler tossed three and a third with just one hit allowed while Evey finished an inning and a third with just a solo home run allowed and two strikeouts.
"I said coming into this tournament our bullpen is in strength, and I think they showed that again tonight," Bragga explained. "They showed it last night. And so that's a huge shot; that's a huge boost to our guys to be able to put goose eggs, goose eggs up on the board. Proud of those two guys and yeah the home run at the end. We got behind 2-0, we threw a pitch right down the middle and their guy did what he should do with it. But I'm proud of our guys; (Marcus) Evey and (Kit) Fowler threw great."
The Golden Eagles move on to the elimination portion of the Tallahassee Regional bracket, matching up with No. 15 ranked and No. 1 seeded Florida State in a rematch of Friday evening's contest that saw Tech victorious. Tech will take on the Seminoles at noon CT and will be designated as the home team, despite playing on Florida State's home field, because of a coin flip.
Fans can follow Tech's contest against Florida State either on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app or on the radio on 106.1 The Eagle with Dylan Vazzano on the call for the latter.
Photo by Tony Marable