By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A late offensive explosion and dominant relief appearance helped keep the Tennessee Tech baseball team's unbeaten streak to start Ohio Valley Conference play in tact Saturday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles (22-7, 11-0) took down Eastern Illinois (5-21, 2-6) at Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex, 11-4.
Tech's 11-0 start to league play marks the best in program history and third best in OVC history, ranking just behind the 2016 Southeast Missouri squad's 12-0 mark and the 2001 Eastern Illinois squad's record of 17-0.
After back-to-back games with just four hits each and total of five runs scored, the Golden Eagle offense woke up to the tune of 11 runs on 13 hits on Saturday.
Eastern Illinois took an early 2-0 lead, using a two-out, two-run home run off the bat of Dougie Parks for the damage. Tech quickly answered in the bottom of the first, starting with a leadoff single up the middle by sophomore Alex Junior on the second pitch.
Trevor Putzig followed, lacing the first pitch he saw into right center field for an RBI double to cut the Panther lead in half. Next up for Tech, Kevin Strohschein worked nine-pitch walk before EIU finally managed its first out of the game. Junior Chase Chambers took his turn at the plate, patiently waiting for a pitch to turn on.
On the fourth offering of the bat, he found what he was looking for, hammering a three-run bomb to right center field to give the Golden Eagles a 4-2 lead.
The visitors chipped away at the Tech lead over the next four frames, plating single runs in the second and fifth to tie the game at 4-4. The Panthers had a good look at taking the lead in the fifth, putting runners at second and third with two outs. Golden Eagle head coach Matt Bragga went to the bullpen with the jam, turning to junior reliever Travis Moths for the final out of the frame. The right-hander delivered on one pitch, forcing a pop up to second base to end the inning.
Moths cruised from there on, completing the final four innings while allowing just two base runners with one hit and one walk. The junior struck out five over that span while requiring just 48 pitches to cover the final 13 outs of the game.
Shortly after Moths' entrance into the game, the Tech offense returned to its first-inning form, starting in the sixth inning. Junior David Garza and Junior each singled with one out in the frame, putting runners on the corners. Junior then forced EIU starter Michael McCormick into an error, dancing down the first base line and baiting the pitcher into making a quick pick-off attempt.
The throw sailed high and wide, allowing Garza to score the go-ahead run and Junior to reach third. Putzig then smacked a ball just deep enough to center field for a sacrifice fly that drove in Junior.
Tech continued to attack in the seventh, loading the bases with back-to-back walks to Ryan Flick and Chambers to start the frame and a hit-by-pitch issued to Collin Harris following the first out. Senior Matt Jones walked to the plate, working the count to an even 2-2 before pounding a double deep into the left center field gap that cleared the bases for three more TTU runs.
Adding some sprinkles to sundae, the Golden Eagles added two more runs in the eighth after Flick kept the inning alive with a two-out single up the middle. On a 1-0 count, Chambers unleashed a mighty swing to blast his second moon shot of the game to right center field. The two-run dinger marked the first baseman's team-leading ninth of the year.
After inducing a fly ball to left field, Moths fanned the final two batters of the game to earn his first victory of the season.
Chambers led the Golden Eagle offense, finishing 3-for-4 with five RBI and three runs scored. Junior managed a 3-for-5 showing at the plate, scoring twice. Jones tallied two hits in four trips to the plate, driving in three.
Tech will look to continue its unblemished mark in OVC play with the series finale against the Panthers set for a 1 p.m. CT first pitch Sunday afternoon.
Photo by Tony Marable