By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – The bats were singing for the Tennessee Tech baseball team Friday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles (31-13, 17-2) snapped its season-long four-game losing streak with an 8-4 decision at Southeast Missouri (21-19, 11-11) in the Ohio Valley Conference series opener.
The Golden Eagles put in work on offense, to the tune of 17 hits. The team did the brunt of its damage on the scoreboard in the sixth, however, plating five of its eight runs to rally back from a 4-1 deficit. Pitching was also a key to the day, as the Tech staff fanned 10 and held the Redhawks to nine hits and three walks.
Tech got off to an early 1-0 lead in the first thank to sophomore Trevor Putzig, who swung a particularly hot bat on the day. The TTU third baseman blasted his third long ball of the season to left center field as the second batter of the game.
Redhawk starter Clay Chandler, backed by some strong defensive play, held the Golden Eagles at bay over the next four innings while the home team's offense got its own break in the third. Southeast Missouri plated four in the frame, taking three on the power of a home run from Tristen Gagan.
Junior shortstop David Garza quickly answered for Tech, shaving the 4-1 lead to 4-2 with an RBI single through the left side following a double by Matt Jones. It wasn't until the sixth, though, that the Golden Eagles truly went to work on the offensive end.
Jones led off the frame with his second double of the game and Garza quickly followed with his own double, putting runners in scoring position for freshman left fielder Anthony Carrera. The rookie came through, cutting the SEMO lead by another run with an RBI single through the left side.
Junior catcher Brennon Kaleiwahea earned his own clutch hit as the next batter in the lineup, tying the game with an RBI single to center field. Leadoff man Alex Junior kept the streak of hits alive, laying down a bunt to advance the runners and beating out the throw for a single to load the bases.
Putzig then continued his hot night, plating two with a single through the right side. His second and third RBI of the game provided Tech with a 6-4 lead; and the team still wasn't done. On the next pitch, sophomore right fielder Kevin Strohschein ripped a single to left field, driving in another run and chasing Chandler from the game.
The Golden Eagles received an insurance run in the eighth, courtesy of junior slugger Ryan Flick. The designated hitter clobbered a single to right field after a leadoff single from Kaleiwahea and intentional walk to Strohschein.
Taking over on the hill in the seventh inning, sophomore closer Ethan Roberts turned in a usual lights-out performance, fanning seven over the final three frames to collect his league-leading 11th save of the year. The Sparta, Tenn. native struck out the side in the seventh before facing some trouble in the eighth.
SEMO quickly loaded the bases in the frame, gathering a single, a walk and a third base runner on a catcher's interference call. Never rattled, Roberts rebounded to punch out the next batter. He then threw out a runner at home on a fielder's choice, ensuring an out to move Tech one step closer to escaping the jam. The mission was accomplished following the next three pitches, as Roberts fanned the final batter of the frame.
The Redhawks tried to rally one last time in the eighth, gathering a leadoff single to kick off the ninth. Roberts made sure no other batter saw a base, however, fanning the next SEMO players before inducing a groundball to first base for the final out of the game.
With the save, Roberts moved to just one away from tying the program's single-season record set by Seth Lucio in the 2013 season.
Redshirt junior Evan Fraliex took home the victory after tossing two scoreless innings in relief to bridge between Wood and Roberts. He scattered two hits and recorded a strikeout. Wood finished the game with two punch outs over four innings of work.
On the offensive side of the game, Putzig led the way with a 3-for-5 showing and a team-high three RBI. He finished just a triple shy of the cycle. Jones and Garza each tallied three hits as well while Strohschein, and Kaleiwahea chipped in two hits apiece.
The two teams will square off in game two of the series on Saturday, with first pitch moved up to a noon CT start due to impending inclement weather in the area.
Photo by Tony Marable