By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – With a doubleheader on the books due to impending weather expected in the Cookeville are Wednesday, the Tennessee Tech baseball team (7-2) split its two-game series with Central Arkansas (6-3) Tuesday, winning game one, 11-6, before falling to the Bears in game two, 10-6.
The Tech victory was driven by a solid combination of timely of potent offense and timely pitching, with the latter getting the job done in the end. Central Arkansas actually owned a quick 2-0 lead in game one of the doubleheader, but the Golden Eagle bats quickly answered and never looked back.
Back-to-back hits from Alex Junior and David Garza put runners on the corner with Kevin Strohschein up to bat. Junior scored and Garza moved to second on a balk by the Bear's starter and a second balk in the Strohschein at bat moved Garza to third, allowing for an easy RBI on a ground out.
After Ryan Flick walked and Chase Chambers got whacked by a pitch, senior Chris Brown drove in the third run with an RBI single to right center field. Junior Trevor Putzig tallied the fourth run on an RBI single up the middle.
On the flip side, starter Chase Burkett settled down nicely after surrendering a double and two-run home run to two of the first three batters he faced. The senior sat two down on strikes in the second inning and matched that with two more batters punched out in the third. He kicked off the fourth with a K before finishing 1-2-3 and then rallied to close out the fifth after allowing the first two batters to reach.
Burkett received plenty of help offensively, even after the 4-2 lead. In the second, Junior swatted his first long ball of the season, a lead off solo shot to right center field. Tech snagged three more runs in the fourth thanks to a two-run triple off the wall in center field from Chambers and an RBI single off the bat of Brown.
Sophomore Ty King took over on the hill for Burkett, who finished the game with five innings pitched, five hits allowed, two earned runs, a walk and an impressive six strikeouts. King tossed two innings of scoreless ball, holding the Bears without a hit for those two frames.
Before King could give way to freshman hurler Jake Rice, the Tech offense struck three more times, highlighted by a solo lead off dinger from Matt Jones (his first of the year). The rookie southpaw then blanked Central Arkansas in the eighth. The Bears tried hard to make a late rally, scoring four times with two unearned runs in the ninth. Senior Brandon Smith took over for the final two outs, however, finishing the job and providing the Tech victory.
Game two saw the roles reversed a little bit as Central Arkansas' offense scored in each of the first five innings to jump quickly to a 9-5 lead. The Bears snagged a 2-0 lead through two frames, but Flick answered with a two-run moon shot to right field to tie things up.
After Central Arkansas put two more runs on the board in the third, another Tech long ball would even things again, this time a two-run shot off the bat of Garza, who blasted his first dinger of the year to left field.
The Ohio Valley Conference's leader in home runs entering the day, junior Collin Harris blasted his sixth tater of the season to lead off the fifth. Flick scored on a throwing error in the sixth to pull the Golden Eagles within three, but the Bears muted the Tech offense for the final three frames to gather a 10-6 win.
The Tech pitching staff struggled to quiet the Central Arkansas bats in game two, all except junior Travis Moths who made a bit of program history on the night. The right handed fireballer mixed his dominant repertoire to the tune of six strikeouts in two innings. More impressively, he struck out all six batters he faced, becoming the first Golden Eagle to strike out six straight batters since teammate Ethan Roberts accomplished the feat in relief last season against Belmont.
He is the first Tech pitcher to fan the side in back-to-back innings in over a decade as well.
The Golden Eagles will hit the road for the first time in 2017 this weekend, making a trip down to Daytona Beach, Fla. for a three-game weekend series against Bethune-Cookman. Friday's contest is set for a 5 p.m. CT first pitch with game times of noon set for both Saturday and Sunday.
Photo by Tony Marable