Bragga named OVC Coach of the Year, eight Tech baseball players receive OVC honors

Bragga named OVC Coach of the Year, eight Tech baseball players receive OVC honors

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Ohio Valley Conference released the 2017 All-OVC Baseball Teams and award winners Tuesday evening, and the Tennessee Tech baseball program was well represented with a school-record-tying nine members honored.

For the third time in his 14-year career at the helm of the Golden Eagle program, head coach Matt Braga took home OVC Coach of the Year accolades after leading Tech to its ninth OVC regular season title in program history and third of his career.

The 2017 Golden Eagles wrapped up a stellar regular season with a 37-19 overall record and 23-7 mark in league play. The 23 OVC wins represent the second most in a single season in league history, just one behind the 2013 Tech squad's mark of 24-6.

Bragga's 2017 squad has already set new single-season program standards for extra base hits (232), home runs (87), strikeouts by a pitching staff (519) and saves (17). The No. 1 seeded Golden Eagles head into the OVC Tournament ranked in the Top 15 nationally in home runs (second), hits (third), slugging percentage (third), doubles (fourth), runs (fifth), scoring (seventh), batting average (12th) and strikeouts per nine innings (12th).

Two members of the Golden Eagle squad took places on the All-OVC First Team, including shortstop David Garza and closer Ethan Roberts.

Garza has ranked as arguably the most elite defensive shortstop in the league in 2017, making just five errors for a .978 fielding percentage. The junior is hitting .293 with 46 runs scored, 63 hits, 11 doubles and 27 RBI. He has reached base at a .386 clip and ranks second on the Tech squad with 30 walks. Garza also finished the regular season a perfect 10-for-10 on stolen base attempts.

Roberts improved on his rookie campaign that saw him earn Freshman All-American honors, breaking the Tech program record for saves in a single season with 13, a mark that led the OVC. The Sparta, Tenn. native sports a 3.43 ERA in 20 appearances out of the bullpen and has tossed 42.0 complete innings on the hill.

In those outings, he has held opposing batters to a paltry .217 average while striking out 70 and walking just 11 all season. He also broke the school record for consecutive strikeouts, punching out nine straight batters against Murray State earlier in the season. He finished that contest with all 10 outs recorded via the strikeout, part of a string of 17 consecutive strikeouts for outs at home.

Five Tech players earned a spot on the All-OVC Second Team, including first baseman Chase Chambers, third baseman Trevor Putzig, right fielder Kevin Strohschein, designated hitter Ryan Flick and starting pitcher Michael Wood.

A junior from Farragut, Tenn., Chambers leads the Golden Eagles with 16 home runs and 59 RBI in 2017, batting .320 with 56 runs scored, 70 total hits and 11 doubles. He is currently slugging .607 and reaching base at a .419 clip, thanks to 26 free passes and 13 hit-by-pitches. He has also made just four errors at first base, holding down a .992 fielding percentage.

Putzig has enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2017, leading Tech and ranking second in the OVC with a .388 batting average. In 50 games, he has scored 49 runs and totaled 81 hits, 21 doubles, six home runs and 50 RBI while slugging .574. He represents one of only a handful of Tech players in team history to finish a game 5-for-5 at the plate, accomplishing the feat at Southeast Missouri in late April.

Taking home his second All-OVC honors in two years, Strohschein has enjoyed another successful season at the dish, driving in 56 RBI with 13 home runs and 11 doubles. The sophomore is hitting .274 with 49 runs scored and 66 hits. He also sports five outfield assists to just two errors for a .982 fielding percentage in right field.

A native of Bluff City, Tenn., Flick has put up monster numbers primarily in the four-hole this season, batting .380 with 54 runs scored, 78 hits, 13 home runs and 54 RBI. His 23 doubles leads the OVC and ranks eighth nationally while his .683 slugging percentage ranks fifth in the league and 15th nationally. Flick leads the Golden Eagles with 35 walks and a .469 on base percentage as well.

Tech's Friday night starter all season, Wood has tossed just like the ace of the staff should, compiling a league-high eight wins in 14 starts. In 80 and one third innings, he has racked up a 4.71 ERA and 77 strikeouts to just 20 walks while holding batters to a .269 average. Against Bethune-Cookman, he tossed his first career complete-game shutout, scattering five hits and walking none.

For the fourth straight year, the Golden Eagles landed a player on the OVC's All-Freshman Team, this year represented by pitcher Devin Lancaster.

The rookie hurler owns a 4-1 record and 4.72 ERA while making seven starts and 15 total appearances. He boasts 38 strikeouts in 53 and one third innings while holding batters to a .274 average. Lancaster turned in one of the better debuts by a Tech hurler in recent memory, completing six innings of shutout baseball with six strikeouts and scattering three hits and two walks against Toledo on opening weekend.

The Golden Eagles will kick off its postseason action on Thursday, May 25 with a 12:30 p.m. CT match-up against the winner of Wednesday's contest between No. 4 seeded Jacksonville State and No. 5 seeded Southeast Missouri.

Photo by Tony Marable