By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Déjà vu. Just 24 hours after turning in its wackiest win of the year, the Tennessee Tech baseball team outdid itself Saturday afternoon, claiming its second straight walk-off victory over Jacksonville State.
The Golden Eagles (24-5, 13-1) plated three runs in the bottom of the ninth to earn an 8-7 win over the Gamecocks (16-12, 6-5), extending the nation's longest winning streak to a program-record 15 straight.
"It's funny, but we haven't talked about it once," head coach Matt Bragga said of the streak. "We just try to go out and play the best baseball that we can each game. Some things have happened that have allowed us to reach 15 straight wins. That's awesome. I'm proud of our guys. That says a lot. That's a lot of wins in-a-row to have no matter who you are. They're doing some things really well and fighting hard even when some things aren't going their way. I think that's a great accomplishment."
Trailing 7-5 with just three outs left in the game, the Tech squad wasted no time in beginning its incredible comeback. Much like the day before, junior Kevin Strohschein kicked off the frame with single, lacing the first pitch he saw through the right side of the diamond.
Also just like the day before, senior Chase Chambers followed it up with an impressive battle at the plate that turned into a double. After falling behind in the count 0-2, he saw four more pitches before blasting a shot to right center field and past a leaping attempt by JSU centerfielder Taylor Hawthorne.
Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, the ball got caught up under the windscreen of the fence, making the hit a ground-rule double and preventing a run from scoring. On the plus side, Tech boasted two runners on with no outs.
Junior John Ham took his turn at the dish, eventually grounding out to the shortstop to drive in Strohschein and cut the deficit to just a single run. Senior David Garza drew a walk to put two on with one out, making the situation even dicier for both sides. A well struck ball could win the game, a ground ball could end it with a double play.
To make things even more compelling, the next Tech batter walking to the plate, junior Nick Osborne, grounded into one of two double plays turned by the Jacksonville State defense in the game. The thought never crossed his head.
After fouling off the first pitch, Osborne delivered a mammoth swing that, had the wind not been blowing in easily could have resulted in a home run. No matter, as the right fielder's power proved plenty potent with a double off the wall in right center field.
Chambers scored on the play with ease, tying things at 7-7. Running from the instant contact was made, Garza raced around the bases to just beat the throw from the outfield, score the winning run and send Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex into a frenzy.
"This is a great crew with fantastic, internal, player leadership," Bragga expressed. "They just fight and they're really good. They beleive they have a chance in every game, no matter what the score is. They don't give up, they just keep fighting and I'm very proud of them."
The win represented the first time Tech had posted back-to-back, walk-off victories since the 2013 season. Tech earned a 10-9 win in 10 innings over Murray State on Apr. 27 and followed it up with a walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning of the series finale against the Racers on Apr. 28.
The Golden Eagles had to play from behind essentially all game, not taking its first lead until the game-winner. Jacksonville State took a 2-0 lead in the first and increased it to 3-0 in the second.
Garza provided Tech a glimpse of what was to come in the fourth, tying the ball game at 3-3 with a three-run blast just inside the foul pole down the left field line. The Gamecocks came back for three more runs in the sixth and another in the seventh to make it a 7-3 deficit staring in the face of the Golden Eagles.
Tech loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh, setting up Garza for some more heroics. The veteran shortstop delivered, smacking a bloop single into just the right spot in shallow center field that drove in two to make it a 7-5 contest.
On the day, Garza led the Golden Eagles with the bat, finishing 3-for-3 with five RBI, two walks and two runs scored, including the game-winner. Osborne gathered just a single hit, but it was by far the most important, his game-clinching double.
Strohschein tallied three hits in four at bats and scored twice while Chambers scored two times as well as part of a 1-for-3 day.
Redshirt freshman Grant Phillips picked up his first collegiate win after tossing three and a third brilliant innings for the Golden Eagles in relief. Phillips gave up just one run in the ball game and held Jax State two only two base runners. The Tech pitching staff gave up seven unearned runs in the ball game, making it 14 unearned of the 15 runs scored by the Gamecocks in the series.
"We've made seven errors the last two days, and to overcome that, you have no choice but to have a short memory," Bragga explained. "You have to just be able to move on to the next play. They all do a good job of that and I think a lot of that comes from their encouragment of each other."
The Golden Eagles will look to continue its impressive winning streak and complete the series sweep over the Gamecocks on Sunday. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. CT at Quillen Field.
Photo by Thomas Corhern