COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- After winning 35 games in 2008, the second
most wins in school history, the 2009 Tennessee Tech Golden Eagle
baseball team looks to continue the growth that the program has
experienced under coach Matt Bragga, now in his sixth season.
The Golden Eagles get the 2009 season underway this weekend hosting a four-game series with St. Peter’s College of New Jersey. The schedule gets underway with doubleheaders both Friday and Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m. each day. Admission is free.
This year’s team will feature a combination of seven experienced seniors, several incoming freshmen who look to make an immediate impact, and everything in between. Tech’s captains, senior outfielder Alex Henry and junior pitcher Jared Dobbs, return to a squad which brings back three of its top six hitters, and four of its top five pitchers from a season ago.
One of Tech’s strengths looks to be on the mound in 2009, as two of the Golden Eagles’ three weekend starters return, along with two mid-week starters and the team’s top go-to bullpen specialists.
Adam Liberatore is a top candidate to join Dobbs and senior Michael Alcorn as a conference starter, and Bragga is excited about the quality and overall depth of the pitching staff.
Alcorn, a fourth year starter, ranked second in the Ohio Valley Conference in complete games with six, eighth in the conference in ERA, and led Tech with seven wins a season ago. Joining Alcorn will be Dobbs, a third year starter. The captain earned all-tournament honors last spring, as he dominated the No. 2 seeded Samford Bulldogs, allowing one run in a complete game victory. Liberatore had a stellar fall campaign for the Golden Eagles after spending his summer pitching in the prestigious Valley Baseball League, where he led the league in ERA (1.36) and opponents batting average (.170) and earned Pitcher of the Year honors.
Sophomore A.J. Kirby-Jones, also one of Tech’s leading hitters, led the team with a 2.92 ERA last season, while being named to the OVC All-Freshman team and the OVC All-Tournament team. He will see time on the mound again in 2009, likely in relief when the game is on the line. Returning saves leader Ryan Dennick will also be a mainstay in tight gamsituations. With Kirby-Jones being a right-handed pitcher, and Dennick a lefty, Bragga will have his options open out of the bullpen.
Chad Oberaker is coming off a strong freshman season in which he made numerous mid-week starts and was Tech’s most improved pitcher in the fall. After proving that he has made the transition to collegiate baseball, Matthew Shepherd will also be looked upon as a mid-week starter or top flight reliever.
Senior Blake Forst will also play a significant role on the pitching staff. Forst has 19 career starts in his career as a Golden Eagle, and is effective with four different pitches, making him a versatile weapon to throw at opponents as a reliever or a starter.
A key newcomer to watch is junior college transfer Lee Henry. Henry was a junior college All-American, and looks to provide valuable innings as a starter or reliever.
Other key contributors on the mound will be freshmen dual position players Chad Hayes and Ben Burgess. They will be joined by junior Wade Bilbrey, sophomore Chason Choate and freshman Jerred Griggs, all of whom bring a wealth of ability to the hill for the Golden Eagles.
As a unit, the Golden Eagles ranked fourth in the conference in ERA, and struck out two batters for every walk, which led the conference, while opponents hit just .284 against them in 2008. With another year of experience under its belt, the pitching staff looks to put up great numbers again in 2009.
Between catchers Cory Wright, Brandon Crossman and Tate McMillan, Tech returns every inning caught from a season ago, and adds freshman Ben Burgess to the catching corp.
Wright is an experienced, strong-armed catcher who leads the Tech defense. Crossman provides the Golden Eagles with offensive punch to all gaps and savvy behind the plate. Burgess, with his ability to drive the ball to all fields and his poise behind the dish will make an impact at the position as well. He is a versatile player that will also see time in the outfield.
The Golden Eagle infield is loaded with talent, led by senior third baseman Evan Webb. McMillan and sophomore Kirby-Jones look to lead the way at first base. A mix of players, including Trice Powers, Chad Hayes and Heath Cheverton, will fill the middle infield slots.
Webb is an outstanding defensive third baseman with excellent range who can make the highlight-reel play from the hot corner. Also a threat at the plate, hitting .330 with 12 doubles and 41 RBIs last spring, Webb will be one of Tech’s most complete players in 2009.
Up the middle, Tech will utilize shortstop Heath Cheverton, who was an All-Conference shortstop at Chattanooga State Community College. With his speed, range and arm strength, Heath can make the routine and spectacular play.
To go along with Cheverton, Tech will rely upon freshman Chad Hayes and redshirt sophomore Trice Powers in the middle infield. Hayes is a flashy defender, that has shown great ability to drive the baseball while Powers is a coach on the field that can defend and handle the bat extremely well.
Senior captain Alex Henry will roam left field, and is a dangerous all-around player with his defensive toughness and switch-hitting ability at the plate. Henry is a hard nosed competitor who will again be at the top of the TTU batting order.
Sophomore Chad Oberaker is a five-tool college player, and among the team’s best athletes. When not on the mound, he looks to be an everyday player in center field.
The Golden Eagles can feel comfortable putting any number of multi-position players in right field. Redshirt-sophomore Casanova Donaldson could be a regular at the position, but also expect to see Ben Burgess, when not catching, or junior college transfer Richard Rausch spend time in right field.
McMillan, Kirby-Jones, and Crossman are everyday players who will fill the DH spot when not in the defensive lineup for the Golden Eagles. Kirby-Jones comes back after being named to the OVC All-Freshmen team and the OVC All-Tournament first-team. He hit .326 in 2008 with 15 doubles, five home runs, and 51 RBIs. He continued to play impressive baseball in the summer and fall, as he hit 11 home runs in the Clark Griffith Summer League and led Tech in home runs in the fall. McMillan is Tech’s most improved offensive player, which is high praise coming off a season in which he hit .342. Crossman will be a major contributor as an offensive weapon. He spent the fall recovering from knee surgery.