By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – They looked different when dissected, but at the end of the day, Tennessee Tech baseball's two games at Austin Peay Friday had one very important thing in common; they were both victories.
The Golden Eagles (19-6, 8-0) kept their perfect start to Ohio Valley Conference in tact in Clarksville, Tenn., sweeping a doubleheader at in-state rival Austin Peay (11-11, 4-4) with victories of 14-3 and 10-8. It marks the program's best start to conference play since the 1956 Tech squad started 9-0 and finished 10-1 in the OVC while winning the league and earning a trip to the NCAA District III Playoffs.
The 19-6 mark through the first 25 games represents Tech's best start since going 20-5 in 2014. The Golden Eagles won 40 games in 2014, as well as in 2013 when the team also started 19-6.
Tech put on two separate shows in game one, one with the bats and another on the hill, dominating the Govs on both sides. The Golden Eagles pounded out 17 hits to the tune of 14 runs while Michael Wood and Marcus Evey kept the Austin Peay offense at bay.
In terms of run production, the game was clinched before the home team even touched a bat. After a strikeout to start the game, Tech quickly put together an attack to cross four runs across the plate, starting with a double to left field by Trevor Putzig. After advancing to third on a wild pitch, Kevin Strohschein drove in the first TTU run with a sac fly to left field.
Junior Ryan Flick kept the inning alive with an 0-2 single to right center field, setting up teammate and fellow junior Chase Chambers for a bang. The first baseman blasted the first pitch he saw clear over the wall in right center field, making it a 3-0 Tech lead.
That would quickly change, as senior Chris Brown launched a solo bomb so far over the right field fence, the Austin Peay outfield never moved. It marked the first time of the year that a pair of Golden Eagle hit back-to-back jacks in a game.
Austin Peay would collect a run in the second, but Flick answered in the third with a long ball down the right field line, one of the team's five dingers in the contest. It marked the fourth time this season the Tech squad would launch at least five home runs in a game.
The Govs scored another marker in the third, but strong defense and dominate pitching from Wood kept the home team off the scoreboard until the ninth inning. Wood finished with seven strikeouts over seven innings of work, scattering seven hits, one walk and two earned runs. He picked up his league-leading fifth victory of the year, moving to 5-1 overall.
Tech continued to add to the lead, never allowing the Govs to really get back in the contest. After scoring two more runs in the fifth, and providing a 7-2 advantage, the Golden Eagle defense took the air out of Austin Peay's sails in the sixth.
After Dre Gleason led off the inning getting plunked, Alex Robles ripped a ball towards third base, seemingly a base hit that would give the home squad two on with none out. Putzig speared the fall while sliding toward second base, quickly tossed it to Matt Jones and the second baseman made the transfer and flip to first for an incredible double play.
The Govs put two more runners on in the frame, setting up Alex Sala for a big chance at getting some momentum back. The APSU catcher launched a shot to right center field that seemed destined to be a two-run double or triple, but Golden Eagle center fielder Alex Junior tracked the ball from the beginning and made an incredible, Sports Center Top 10 worthy, leaping grab into the warning track to end the frame and scoring threat.
Tech plated three more runs in the seventh as Flick doubled – his NCAA-leading 17th of the season – to set up Chambers for an RBI single. Brown then followed up blasting his second tuna sandwich of the contest, this time to left center field. His first multi-homer game of his career proved a special one, as the switch hitter became the first Golden Eagle in program history to hit a long ball from each side of the plate in the same game.
A four-spot in the eighth just added to the fiery finish for Tech in game one, highlighted by a two-run bombzini by Strohschein.
Evey finished the final two frames on the hill for Tech, fanning five Gov batters while allowing just a single run on a leadoff home run in the ninth.
Game two went much different for the Golden Eagles. The roller coaster ride looked highly promising for the visitors early, as Strohschein blasted a solo boomer to right field for first-inning, 1-0 lead.
Starter Jake Usher looked purely dominant early, fanning the side in the first, all on swings. He struck out his fourth straight Gov to start the game in the second and set down eight of the first nine batters he faced. His one walk came back for Tech after Brown picked off Kyle Wilson at first base.
In the fourth, Tech seemingly took control of things with another jack job by Brown, who pounded a two-run shot to center field. Garza followed three batters later with an RBI triple for a 4-0 lead and Usher in a groove.
The script quickly flipped as Austin Peay rallied after a leadoff strikeout in the bottom half of the fourth. APSU pounded four doubles in the inning, taking its first lead of the day, 5-4. The Govs looked to wipe out the fight in the Tech dugout with a two-run home run in the fifth, making it a 7-4 deficit for TTU.
The Golden Eagles showed just why they had yet to lose a game in league play, however, dropping five runs in the top of the seventh to recapture the lead. The home team forced an early out, but Flick fought for a crucial, eight-pitch walk to start the rally. Chambers and Brown each followed with singles to load the bases.
With a new pitcher taking the hill, junior Collin Harris played his own game, lacing the first pitch he saw off the wall in right field for a two-run single to pull the Golden Eagles to within one. Jones followed immediately on the next offering with a two-run double to the wall in center field, driving in the go-ahead run for an 8-7 Tech lead. An RBI double by Garza provided an important insurance run, upping the Tech advantage to 9-7.
Sophomore closer Ethan Roberts entered the contest with lead, taking over for Nick Osborne who tossed a scoreless sixth. While the youngster surrendered one run in the seventh on two hits, he quickly shut the door on any more offense, allowing just one more hit the rest of the way. A ninth-inning insurance marker for Tech provided the final scoring touch to a 10-8 victory that saw Roberts earn his league-leading sixth save of the season. Osborne earned his second win of the year.
The second W of the day provided Tech with its fourth straight game scoring at least 10 runs, the longest streak since posting seven such consecutive games in 2014. Tech won all 14 of the contest as part of a 10-game win streak. The win also represented the team's seventh straight victory on the year.
Robert's sixth save of the year tied the Sparta, Tenn. native with Jeb Scoggins (2015) for the fourth-most in a single season in school history.
Game three of the series is scheduled for a 1 p.m. CT start on Saturday, weather permitting.
Photo by Tony Marable