Golden Eagles kick off Justin Holmes era in style, defeat Western Illinois 3-2

Golden Eagles kick off Justin Holmes era in style, defeat Western Illinois 3-2

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Justin Holmes era started off on a high note for the Tennessee Tech baseball team, as the Golden Eagles opened the 2019 season, the first under Tech's newest head coach, with a 3-2 victory over Western Illinois.

With light, cold rain sporadic throughout, and a whipping wind blowing in most the game, the Golden Eagles built an early lead and leaned on a strong showing from their pitching staff to earn their head coach his first career victory.

Making the first start of 2019 for the Golden Eagles was junior college transfer Caleb Morgan, a native of Grenada, Miss. The right-hander was impressive in his debut in the purple and gold, gaining the win after completing five innings. He surrendered just a single hit and a pair of walks while striking out eight Leatherneck batters.

The Tech offense wasted little time breaking into the new campaign, scoring in the first inning. Shortstop Jay Meuse started things off by legging out an infield single to second base with one out. Preseason Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year Kevin Strohschein followed by working a walk. It was sophomore first baseman Jason Hinchman who came through with the big knock, slapping a base hit through the right side to drive in Meuse for a 1-0 lead.

That advantage grew to 3-0 in the bottom of the third, beginning with the first fireworks show of 2019. Leading off the frame, junior outfielder Anthony Carrera hammered a 1-0 offering to right center field for a solo shot, giving the reigning NCAA leader in long balls an early head start to the new year.

Meuse followed with his second base hit of the game, this one to right field. Strohschein reached next on a fielding error by the Western Illinois shortstop, allowing Meuse to reach third and setting up Hinchman for more glory. The slugger smashed a liner to center field, plenty deep enough to drive in Meuse.

Senior southpaw Andrew O'Dwyer took over on the hill in the sixth inning, tossing one and two thirds frames with just a single hit allowed and three punch outs. Junior right-hander Jacob Cole came on for Tech next, looking to finish off the final eight outs.

The Mt. Juliet native finished the seventh inning with a strike out and allowed just a single run in the eighth despite allowing three base runners. He did fan two more in the frame, entering the ninth with a 3-1 advantage.

A single, dropped foul ball and double to start the frame put the reliever in a bit of a pickle, with the go ahead run coming to the plate. Cole showed moxie, however, inducing a week ground ball to himself for the first out. He then forced a ground out to second base that, despite allowing a run to score, recorded the second out of the inning.

He nabbed the final out on his own, striking out the final batter of the frame to secure his first save in a Tech uniform and the team's first win of the year. Cole tallied four Ks on the day, with just one earned run allowed in two and one third innings.

A defensive star on the day was junior catcher John Elford. The Tech backstop caught not one, not two, but three Leatherneck baserunners stealing on the day. He nearly had a fourth on his plate, but the ball was knocked out of the shortstop's glove on the ensuing slide, allowing the Western Illinois runner to reach second successfully. 

The Golden Eagles and Leathernecks will square off twice on Saturday to finish the weekend series, kicking off a doubleheader at 11:00 a.m. CT. The second game will begin approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first contest. Because of expected rain and inclement weather in the Cookeville area on Sunday, it was decided to play a doubleheader on Saturday.

Photo by Thomas Corhern