By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech baseball team used a veteran lineup and history of late-game rallies to accomplish just that Friday evening, collecting a 7-5, comeback victory over Toledo on opening day of the 2017 season in Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.
Golden Eagle starting pitcher Michael Wood and Rocket starting hurler Steven Calhoun battled back-and-forth from the outset of the 3:00 p.m. CT first pitch to the end of the fourth inning.
Wood would be the first to give way to the bullpen, allowing two earned runs, three hits and three walks while striking out four batters in four innings of work. Calhoun lasted five full innings with three hits, one earned run and two walks before he too gave way to his bullpen.
The Golden Eagles struck first, notching a solo run in the bottom of the first inning thanks to an RBI single from Chris Brown. Toledo answered in the third, using a Brad Boss home run to even things at 1-1.
The Rockets notched their second run in the fourth and threatened to increase the lead by more until Wood induced a ground ball to Tech third baseman Trevor Putzig. The junior corralled the ball and flipped it to Matt Jones at second base, who then transferred and fired to first baseman Chase Chambers for an inning-ending double play.
Chambers led off the bottom of the sixth for the Golden Eagles, wasting no time welcoming the Rocket bullpen into the contest with a triple to right center field off Steven Duby. Two batters later, junior Ryan Flick ripped a blistering shot into center field for a base hit and game-tying RBI.
Toledo looked to send the Golden Eagles a gut punch in the top of the seventh, scoring three times to take a 5-2 advantage.
Reigning Ohio Valley Conference Rookie and Player of the Year Kevin Strohschein, as well as Chambers, made sure that Tech had the last word, however, plating four of the team's next five runs that secured a perfect 1-0 start to the 2017 campaign.
Strohschein led off the bottom half of the seventh with a single to right field. Following a strikeout, Chambers took his turn at the plate and promptly sent the first pitch offered to him by Jordan Kesson howling over the wall in left center field for a two-run home run to cut the Toledo lead to just one run.
The Rockets managed to squeeze out of the rest of the frame unscathed, but the potent Tech offense was waiting to pounce again in the eighth.
Putzig led off the frame with a single through the left side and advanced to third base after junior college transfer Collin Harris roped a double off the top of the wall down the right field line. Toledo turned to reliever Michael Jacob to try and salvage the lead with two runners in scoring position and no outs, but to no avail.
Alex Junior worked a lengthy at-bat threatening to lay down a suicide squeeze before ultimately drawing a six-pitch walk to load the bases. Jacob collected his first out of the frame with a strikeout, brining Strohschein to the plate with a chance at playing hero for Tech, a role he grew so accustomed to during last season's record-breaking freshman campaign.
Naturally, the right fielder delivered, chopping an 0-2 offering up the middle and past the diving glove of both middle infielders for two RBI and a Golden Eagle lead. Brown followed with a sacrifice fly to center field for good measure, providing Tech a 7-5 lead they would hold on to.
Sophomore bullpen hand Ethan Roberts came on in the ninth to garner his first save of the season, forcing a fly ball out to left field before fanning the final two batters he faced.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery in late April last season, redshirt junior Evan Fraliex took home the emotional victory in his first game back in action. The right-hander one and a third innings of relief, allowing just one hit on 15 total pitches.
Ty King tossed two strong innings of relief as well on the night, replacing Wood in the fifth inning. He also allowed just a single hit.
Leading the way offensively, the law firm of Strohschein, Chambers and Brown accounted for six total RBI, including two for each prosecutor. Both Strohschein and Chambers finished 2-for-4 on the day as well. Harris and Flick also each notched multi-hit performances.
Junior tallied just a single at bat on the day out of the leadoff spot, reaching all five times he visited the plate. The center fielder collected two walks, was hit by a pitch twice and reached on an error. He scored two runs and stole a base.
The four-game series will continue Saturday afternoon, with a doubleheader scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at Bush Stadium. The contest was moved back from an original scheduled start of noon due to impending rain in the area. The second contest will tentatively start at 5 p.m. Fans are encouraged to check TTUsports.com, Twitter (@TNTech_Baseball and @TTUGoldenEagles) and Facebook (TTU Sports) over the next two days for updates on game times and potential schedule changes due to the weather.
Photo by Tony Marable