By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Four hours of extra-inning baseball, featuring two late rallies by the home team went to Tennessee Tech Tuesday evening, as the Golden Eagles fought and clawed their way to a 10-9 victory over in-state rival Middle Tennessee.
After tying the ball game at 7-7 in the top of the eighth, the visiting Blue Raiders (17-31) took the lead in the top of the ninth on the only error of the game by the purple and gold. Never deterred, Tech had an answer in the bottom of the frame.
Sophomore slugger Jason Hinchman came to the plate to lead things off and immediately destroyed the first pitch he saw to left center field, tying the ball game at 8-8 with a mammoth solo blast. It marked the first baseman's 21st home run of the year, the third most by a Golden Eagle in a single season.
In the 10th, Middle Tennessee used some small ball to take back over the lead. The Blue Raiders took advantage of a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. A sacrifice fly to right field brought in the go-ahead run.
Once again, the Golden Eagles refused to bow down and geared up for one last rally. Freshman JD Funk pinch hit to lead off the bottom of the 10th and rewarded the decision with a double to right center field. With the tying run in scoring position, head coach Justin Holmes went to the bench again, this time inserting senior right-handed hurler Andrew O'Dwyer as a pinch runner.
The former outfielder showed off his wheels, scoring from second base on a single down the right field line off the bat of junior Anthony Carrera to tie the game at 9-9. With All-American Kevin Strohschein up to bat, the Middle Tennessee outfield shifted to play as deep as a few steps off the warning track, respecting the power of the senior slugger.
The veteran outfielder made the defense pay, blooping a single to shallow center field to put runners on first and second. The Blue Raiders were able to record back-to-back outs on a line drive to center field and a fly out to right center, prompting Hinchman's return to the dish.
The youngster would go on to draw a five-pitch walk, never truly getting the opportunity for some heroics. The torch would be passed on to redshirt freshman Nathan McMeans. With the bases loaded and two outs, the second baseman calmly watched four straight offerings miss the strike zone to draw a walk-off walk and win the ball game.
Right-hander Jacob Parham earned the victory after covering the final inning for the Golden Eagles, moving to 2-1 on the season.
Strohschein continued his rampage on the Ohio Valley Conference record book in the contest, breaking two more career records. In the first inning, he snapped a tie with Jacksonville State's Clayton Daniel for the most career doubles with a two-bagger to right center field, the 69th of his career. He recorded double number 70 of his career later in the contest.
The two-time OVC Player of the Year became the league's all-time career leader in at bats in the sixth inning in the most fitting way possible. Strohschein uncorked a two-run jack to right center field to make it a 7-4 lead in favor of Tech at that time. It represented his 14th long ball of the season and 61st of his career.
He would go on to finish the night with a league-best 978 career at bats. He now needs just two home runs to break (and one to tie) the OVC's career record currently held by former Golden Eagle Zach Stephens.
Strohschein paced Tech with a 4-for-6 showing at the plate with two RBI and three runs scored. Eight different Golden Eagles recorded hits on the night while seven posted at least one RBI.
The Golden Eagles will close out its home schedule this weekend, playing host to OVC foe Morehead State in a three-game series beginning Friday, May 10 at 6:00 p.m. CT. With inclement weather a possibility in the area throughout the weekend, fans are encouraged to check social media and the TTUSports.com website for updates concerning this weekend's schedule.
Photo by Tony Marable