By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The magic number is now one for the Tennessee Tech baseball team following its 4-1 victory over in-state rival Belmont Sunday afternoon.
The Golden Eagles (34-14, 20-3) will look to claim their ninth Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship in program history Monday afternoon, facing off against the Bruins (22-23, 14-12) in the series finale at 1 p.m. CT.
Tech's victory over Belmont on Sunday clinched the team's seventh OVC series win of the season, and it came on the power of a mighty swing, not to mention a couple of stellar pitching performances.
Starter Jake Usher was brilliant on the day, tossing six and one third innings while holding the visitor bats to just five hits and one earned run. Junior reliever Travis Moths finished things up, clearing the final two and two thirds innings with just two hits surrendered and four strikeouts.
For the second straight game, the Tech offense jumped on the scoreboard first, going to work in the bottom of the third. Senior second baseman Matt Jones led the way, ripping a double off the right field wall on the first pitch of the frame. Two batters later, junior left fielder Collin Harris singled through the right side to drive in Jones and give TTU a 1-0 lead.
Having already blanked Belmont over the first three frames, Usher ended all threats from the Bruins over the next three innings as well, highlighted by a bases-loaded, 3-6-1 double play to end the fifth, turned by junior first baseman Chase Chambers, junior shortstop David Garza and Usher himself.
Belmont finally managed to put a small dent in Usher's armor in the seventh, gathering a bunt single from Kyle Conger with one out. Conger then stole second and advanced to third soon after on a throwing miscue by the Golden Eagles. Tyler Walsh tied the game with a double down the third base line that drove in Conger.
Moths took over from that point on and helped work two quick outs to get out of the inning. It wasn't until Belmont went to its own bullpen that the Golden Eagles provided the damaging blow. The Bruins called upon Brennan Washington in the eighth to replace started Dylan King.
Harris opened the frame by rebounding from an 0-2 count to draw a six-pitch walk. Sophomore center fielder Alex Junior used his blazing speed to reach base on a bunt single while attempting to move Harris over to second base, giving the Golden Eagles two runners on base.
Washington rallied a bit to force two straight fly ball outs and move within three strikes of getting out of the inning with no damage. Junior designated hitter Ryan Flick had other ideas.
With a 1-1 count, the Tech slugger uncorked a laser shot to left center field that undercut the wind blowing in and cleared the wall for a three-run home run. The blast marked Flick's 13th of the season and his 36th extra base hit of the season. It also provided a 4-1 lead as the Golden Eagles headed to the top of the ninth, just three outs away from another victory.
After surrendering a leadoff double, Moths made quick work of the Belmont bats the rest of the inning, inducing a ground ball to second base before striking out the final two batters of the game. He earned his third victory of the year out of the bullpen.
Flick finished the game with a team-high two hits in four trips to the plate, driving in three runs. Five other Tech bats registered hits in the game as well.
Photo by Tony Marable