By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A huge third inning, backed by clutch pitching and defense, led the Tennessee Tech baseball team (3-1) to a series-opening victory over Illinois State (2-2) Friday afternoon, a 7-4 victory at Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.
The top four of the Golden Eagle lineup each posted multiple hits in the contest, including leadoff man Alex Junior. The junior outfielder scored two runs while smacking his second home run of the season to finish with two RBI.
Senior hurler Travis Moths earned his second straight victory to start the 2018 campaign, tossing five innings with five strikeouts and four earned runs. Sparta native Ethan Roberts took over on the hill for the final four frames, escaping an early jam before slamming the door for his first save of the new season.
Roberts entered the contest with two on and zero outs in the top of the sixth and saw the first batter he faced load the bases after he bobbled a sacrifice bunt attempt. The Tech closer recovered immediately, fanning the next two batters with just eight pitches. He forced the final batter of the frame to ground out up the middle, sticking out his hand and slowing the ball down enough for the shortstop, Garza, to make a play and throw out the runner.
A quick fly out, followed by a walk set up the Tech defense for a fantastic display. Illinois State's Nick Zouras ripped a grounder up the middle that seemed destined to be a hit. Garza charged up the middle, lunged for the ball and flipped it to second baseman John Ham. The junior college transfer made a lightning quick transition at the bag, leaping over a sliding Redbird baserunner in the process, and rocketed a throw to Chambers at first to pull off the double play.
Inning number eight went rather quickly, with Roberts fanning the first batter and forcing a fly out and pop up to end the frame. He then struck out the side in the ninth to lock down his first save of the year.
The Tech offense provided an early advantage thanks to a solo bomb to right center field from Putzig, the senior's first of the season. Two innings later, the bats exploded to plate five to take a commanding 6-1 lead.
Junior and Garza each blasted two-run shots to right center field in the frame, with a sacrifice fly to left center field by Ham sandwiched in between.
Tech and Illinois State are scheduled to square off again Saturday afternoon with a 2 p.m. CT first pitch at Quillen Field. With rain and inclement weather expected in the area this weekend, fans are encouraged to check social media and the TTUSports.com website for updates concerning this weekend's schedule.
Photo by Tony Marable