By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Advantageous at bats and a dominant relief performance propelled the Tennessee Tech baseball team to a 7-2, series-opening victory over Youngstown State Friday evening at Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.
It was a little bit of a slow start for both teams, as the two sides traded zeros on the scoreboard through the first two innings. Youngstown State seemed to have something going in the third, drawing a leadoff walk, followed by a bunt single down the first base line.
Golden Eagles starter Caleb Morgan worked around the start to the frame, forcing a line drive to shortstop Jay Meuse for out number one. He forced a fly out to the next batter before punching out the final batter of the frame to escape unscathed.
In the bottom half, Tech took its turn with the bats, beginning with a leadoff single by John Elford. A sacrifice bunt and ground out put him at third with two outs in the frame, but outfielder Andrew Swanson would not disappoint. The junior college transfer spun a single just over the pitcher's head that dropped in no man's land for a single and an RBI.
Youngstown State got on the board in the fourth, beginning with a leadoff home run to tie the game. The Penguins then took the lead later in the frame, scoring on a Golden Eagle error. Morgan worked out of further trouble, taking Tech to the bottom half.
The Golden Eagles tied the game back up in that half frame. Jason Hinchman ripped a double off the outstretched glove of the Youngstown State shortstop with one out. Two batters later, freshman JD Funk laced a single down the left field line, knotting things at 2-2.
With the game at a stalemate, Tech turned to junior Nic Dye to take them through the next portion of the game. His performance was immaculate, as the southpaw exceeded expectations by completing the remaining five innings without any trouble.
He made a great play on an attempted bunt to lead off the fifth, grabbing the ball just off the first base line, spinning and nabbing the runner for the first out. He struck out the next batter he faced and then got the third out with a ground ball to second base.
His quick work sprung life into the Tech squad, which responded with a game-changing bottom of the fifth. With one out, Meuse collected a four-pitch walk and Swanson followed with a single to right center field. Senior outfielder Kevin Strohschein then turned in the game-deciding at bat, blasting a single to right field to drive in a run.
With two outs, Tech kept working as Hinchman drew a four-pitch free pass to load the bases. Junior utility man Gavin Johns followed by drawing his own walk, driving in a second run. Funk then doubled the Golden Eagle advantage, dumping a two-run single into right field.
A four-run lead allowed Dye to continue his dominant run on the hill, which was no more apparent than in the sixth. The Carrollton, Ga. native used just 11 pitches to strike out the side and needed only 64 to cover the final five frames of the contest.
In those five innings, Dye recorded eight punch outs and just two walks. He kept the Penguins without a hit as well, earning his first victory of the season.
Funk led the Tech offense on the day, finishing 2-for-4 with a three RBI. Swanson and Hinchman also recorded multiple hits in the contest.
The two teams will square off again Saturday, combatting in doubleheader action beginning at 1:00 p.m. CT at Quillen Field and Bush Stadium.
Photo by Ben Craven