By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Not only could rain not get in the way of the Tennessee Tech baseball team and its quest for an upset bid at No. 19 Vanderbilt Tuesday night, it almost appeared to help the Golden Eagles (26-9) on their way to a 5-2 victory over the Commodores (21-13) in a wet and wild contest at Hawkins Field.
"Our guys came into tonight very focused with the mindset of beating the game of baseball and not worrying who was on the other side of the diamond," TTU head coach Matt Bragga said. "We have a really good team, so when we execute pitches and do the right things, we have a chance to win anytime we play. And that's what we did tonight."
A pitcher's duel through the first four frames, it seemed at one point that mother nature would intervene and never allow the game to reach the minimum of five innings need to determine an outcome.
Vanderbilt starter Chandler Day and Tech hurler Ty King traded zeroes in the first frame, with King striking out the side in the bottom of the first just before the skies opened up for the first time during game play. The heavy rain and threat of more forced a 50-minute delay before the second inning could even begin, seeming to threaten the effectiveness of both starters moving forward.
That thought could quickly be discarded as King covered two more frames while holding the Commodores to just one hit and four total base runners. He struck out five in the first three innings. Day took his performance a bit further into the contest, but unfortunately could not boast the same sort of success as King.
In the top of the fifth, the skies once again opened with a vengeance, but play continued unabated, apparently providing the Golden Eagles with new life and sense of urgency to put runs on the scoreboard. After a quick out to start the frame, junior shortstop David Garza got things started with a single to center field.
Making just his third career start and having momentum on his side after snagging his first collegiate hit in the top of the third, freshman Anthony Carrera took a mighty hack at a 1-0 offering, banging a double off the wall in left field that drove in Garza for the game's first run.
The left fielder came around to score just four pitches later, as sophomore center fielder Alex Junior laced an RBI single into right field for another RBI and a 2-0 Tech lead. An infield single to shortstop by junior third baseman Trevor Putzig proved to be frugal in the long run, as multiple wild pitches allowed both runners to advance and eventually dent home plate for a 4-0 advantage by the end of the inning.
"Our team is full of competitors," Bragga explained about the four-run production in the heavy rain. "It could have been snowing and I think it would have been much of the same thing. They love to play the game, they love each other, they play very hard and they are tough young men."
Tech snagged an insurance run in the seventh on multiple wild pitches that allowed Putzig, who had walked earlier in the frame, to cross the plate for a 5-0 lead.
Having entered in the fourth inning for King, freshman right hander Devin Lancaster absolutely shoved on the hill for four innings, scattering a hit and two walks while punching out two Vanderbilt batters and letting the defense make the routine out (albeit challenging when the on-and-off rain showers presented themselves) time and again.
In the top of the eighth, Lancaster induced a quick first out before a fielding error allowed a Commodore runner to reach safely and advance to second. A double down the left field line drove in the first run of the game for the home team, ending the rookie's night after four and one third innings of masterful work.
Nick Osborne came in to limit the damage, and proceeded to record two outs while allowing just one more to cross for Vanderbilt. Both runs were unearned and Tech moved just one inning away from history.
With a three-run advantage on the scoreboard, head coach Matt Bragga turned to the highly reliable Ethan Roberts for the final three outs and the sophomore delivered. The Sparta, Tenn. native forced a fly out to kick start the frame and induced a ground ball to the next batter.
The Commodores refused to give up without one final gasp at a comeback attempt, plating the next two batters on a 2-2 single up the middle and a six-pitch walk to set up their leadoff man and projected top-10 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Jeren Kendall, with a chance to tie the game.
Roberts forced a swing and miss on the first offering and got Kendall to look at strike two on the next pitch. The Vandy center fielder fouled off three consecutive pitches, but Roberts finally fooled the veteran bat into hack that missed for strike three.
The four Tech hurlers combined to allow just four hits and two unearned runs to the nation's No. 19 ranked team.
"The guys just came out and executed pitches," Bragga remarked about his pitching staff. "I could go on and on about each of them. King provided such a good start for us. They're a very good team, so his pitch count got up there a little quicker than we would have liked, but he made a good start and competed so well. Lancaster was wonderful when he came in and Ozzy [Nick Osborne] handled a tight situation well. Roberts came in and did what he typically does for us, and that's close games."
The victory marked the second for the Golden Eagles over Vanderbilt since 2013, when the team upset the then-ranked No. 2 Commodore club. The upset over this year's No. 19 ranked squad marked the eighth win for an Ohio Valley Conference team over a ranked opponent. It also represented Vanderbilt's first midweek loss of the season.
Lancaster moved to a solid 4-1 on the season with his impressive relief performance, not allowing an earned run in four and one third innings of work. Roberts nailed down his ninth save of the season with the single frame of relief.
In addition to Carrera's multi-hit game, Garza and first baseman Chase Chambers also managed multiple hits in the contest.
The Golden Eagles will return to action Thursday evening, playing host to OVC rival Murray State in a three-game series starting with a 6 p.m. CT first pitch.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information