Dennick guides Golden Eagles to 7-2 win over Murray State

PADUCAH, Ky. – Senior left-hander Ryan Dennick smothered second-seeded Murray State, holding the hard-hitting Thoroughbreds to just five hits in carrying Tennessee Tech to a 7-2 victory Thursday afternoon in Brooks Stadium in the 2009 Ohio Valley Conference Baseball Tournament.

With the win, their second at the tournament, the Golden Eagles (28-22-1) advance to play Friday night in the winner’s bracket, where they will meet No. 6 seeded Jacksonville State at 6:30 p.m. JSU topped No. 1 Eastern Illinois 11-1 Thursday.

“Our team is playing hard and with great persistence and perseverance,” said head coach Matt Bragga. “I’m real proud of Dennick. That was a performance for the ages. He has been doing that, and will continue to do that.”

Dennick (4-2) out dueled Murray State starter Chris Claycraft (10-3), piecing together the longest outing of his two-year Golden Eagle career. Dennick’s complete-game effort went the full nine innings as he allowed five hits, walked four and struck out four. Dennick held Murray State, which entered the game hitting .323 as a team, to less than half its season batting average, with a .161 (5-for-31) mark for the game.

Chad Oberacker and A.J. Kirby-Jones each homered to stake Dennick to a 3-1 lead, and the Golden Eagles got clutch two-run hits from Ben Burgess and Evan Webb in a decisive four-run eight inning to blow open a tight contest.

After designated Bryan Propst popped a solo home run to left in the bottom of the sixth to make it a 3-2 Tech lead, the Golden Eagles took advantage of two MSU throwing errors with the run-scoring hits by Burgess and Webb to make it 7-2.

Oberacker got Tech rolling in the top of the first inning, after Alex Henry beat out an infield hit to lead off the inning. Oberacker ripped a Claycraft fastball over the wall in right for his fourth home run of the year and a 2-0 lead.

The Thoroughbreds reclaimed one run in the bottom of the first as Propst punched an 0-2 pitch over the reach of shortstop Heath Cheverton for an RBI single to make it 2-1.

Claycraft, who tied for the league lead with 10 wins during the regular season, settled down and retired 10 consecutive Tech hitters before Kirby-Jones slammed a line drive to the opposite field for his league-high 18th home run of the year to make it 3-1 in the fourth.

MSU had a chance to score in the fourth, getting a single from Jonathan Claycraft and a double by Tyler Owen with one out. Daniel Miller hit a ball back to Dennick, who started to make a play toward first but noticed the runner racing home from third. His toss to Burgess was in time, and Claycraft was tagged out at the plate and the next batter ended the frame with a harmless ground out.

Tech had two hits in both the sixth and seventh innings but failed to score, missing chances to expand the lead for Dennick. In the sixth, Oberacker was thrown out in a close play at the plate, and in the seventh Webb was tagged out on a close play at second base.

In between, Propst got his second RBI of the game with his solo shot to left to make it 3-2.

“There were some really big plays on defense,” Bragga said. “Murray State made a couple of great throw-outs, one at the plate and one at second. Oberacker made a great diving catch in center, and the play at the plate from Dennick to Burgess was huge.”

The big eight inning began when Henry reached on a fielding error, and with one out, Oberacker laid down a sacrifice bunt and the throw pulled the first baseman off the bag and put two runners aboard with nobody out. Kirby-Jones followed with a single to the hole at shortstop, loading the bases.

Burgess, who slammed a grand slam in Wednesday’s win over Southeast Missouri, added two more RBI when he crushed a sharp grounder past third and into left, sending home Henry and Oberacker.

That was the end of the line for Claycraft, who yielded to Dan Huff. Cassanova Donaldson’s sacrifice bunt put runners at second and third, and Webb delivered a sharp ground ball past third for another two runs to make it 7-2.

Dennick, whose previous long stint was six innings last week in a one-hit win over Southern Miss, retired three consecutive Murray State hitters in the eighth, then tossed a solid ninth. He worked around a one-out single by pinch hitter Matt Phillips with a help of Oberacker, who made a brilliant diving catch in center field for the second out. The final out was Dennick’s fourth strikeout.

Oberacker, Kirby-Jones, Burgess and Webb each had two of Tech’s 10 hits in the contest.

Murray State (32-20-1), playing its first game of the tournament, slipped into the loser’s bracket.