By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was a perfect senior sendoff weekend for the No. 19 Tennessee Tech baseball team, with Sunday providing the cherry on top. The Golden Eagles (44-6, 25-2) set the Ohio Valley Conference record for league wins by completing their series sweep of Eastern Kentucky (26-26, 15-12) with an 8-5 victory.
Even though Tech's final home contest takes place on Tuesday, May 15, the Golden Eagles hosted Senior/Mother's Day on Sunday afternoon, allowing for the players' families to attend and enjoy in the pregame ceremony that honored each of the seven senior members of the team.
Following the ceremony, it was time for baseball. And unlike the first two contests, Eastern Kentucky was the first to light up the scoreboard. The Colonels quickly gathered back-to-back singles to lead off the contest, but Tech hurler Alex Hursey limited the damage.
After a sacrifice fly brought in the first run of the game, and subsequently equaled the first out, Hursey forced back-to-back fly balls to centerfielder Alex Junior to retire the side.
The Golden Eagle seniors made the day (not to mention weekend) as special as possible, starting with the first inning. Following a leadoff walk to Junior, senior backstop Brennon Kaleiwahea kept his smoking-hot weekend rolling with a single to left field.
Junior Kevin Strohschein ripped a single to the second baseman in shallow right field, driving in the first run of the game. Then, senior Chase Chambers sent the stands into a frenzy. The first baseman crushed a 2-0 offering for a three-run blast to right center field, his 13th long ball of the season, for a 4-1 Tech lead.
A solo home run by the Colonels in the fourth cut that lead to two, but another senior made his mark on the contest for the purple and gold. Left fielder Collin Harris stepped to the plate and quickly found himself in an 0-2 count. It hardly mattered, as he unloaded on the next pitch for a towering, solo shot to left center field that once again provided a three-run advantage.
Eastern Kentucky made its comeback effort in the sixth, eventually tying the contest with a solo home run and back-to-back RBI doubles.
Yet again, a Golden Eagle senior came to the rescue. With one out in the bottom half of the sixth, shortstop David Garza took his turn in the batter's box and promptly connected with the first pitch he saw for a monster, solo round-tripper to left field.
The lead his long ball provided would prove to hold up, thanks in large part to, yes, another senior. After relieving Hursey with two outs in the sixth, Colton Provey looked at home with a clean inning, making quick work of the Colonels in the seventh and eighth innings.
The Colonels managed two baserunners to lead off the ninth, but Provey turned in a massive strikeout for the first out to end his outing with a bang. He passed the torch over to redshirt freshman Tyler Sylvester for the final two outs. He forced a fly ball for the first one and then needed just four pitches to punch out the final batter of the contest.
Provey earned his fifth victory of the season after tossing two and two thirds innings, scattering three hits and fanning four Colonel batters. Sylvester boasted his fourth save of the year with those final two outs.
Of the seven Tech seniors, all but one made it on the diamond on the day, including third baseman Trevor Putzig, who missed the majority of the series with an injury but pinch hit in the eighth. Travis Moths tossed a fantastic game to pick up his 11th win of the year on Friday, representing the only Golden Eagle senior not to play in the contest.
Three of the five Tech senior batters blasted home runs in the contest (Chambers, Harris and Garza), with Kaleiwahea instead finishing 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI. For the weekend, he finished an unconscious 8-for-10 with six runs and five RBI, not to mention an .846 on base percentage.
The winningest senior class in program history helped the Golden Eagles set a new OVC record for league wins, gathering their 25th of the season to break the Tech team's mark of 24 set back in 2013. The win also clinched the team's eighth weekend series sweep of the year.
Tech will play its last home game of the season on Tuesday, playing host to Western Kentucky in a 2 p.m. CT contest.
Photos by Thomas Corhern