Liberatore overpowers Cougars, Tech tops SIU Edwardsville 5-0 in series opener

Teams to play doubleheader Saturday starting at 1 p.m.

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Senior Adam Liberatore allowed just two hits and four base runners and struck out a career-high 10 batters through 7 2/3 innings to help carry Tennessee Tech to a 5-0 non-conference victory over SIU Edwardsville Friday afternoon in Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.

Liberatore (3-2) took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and junior Stephen Pryor got the final out in the eighth and worked a perfect ninth to close the game.

The two Golden Eagle pitchers combined to strike out out 13 Cougar hitters as SIUE fell to 5-16 on the season. It was the second shutout victory of the season for Tech, which saw it’s record reach 11-11. 

It was the first two-hitter by the Tech pitching staff since Ben Downs posted a seven-inning, two-hit shutout in 2002.

Friday’s game was the first of a three-game series against SIUE. Because of a forecast for poor weather on Sunday, the two teams will play a doubleheader Saturday beginning at 1 p.m.

SIUE starter Luke Vine (1-2) took the loss, leaving after the second inning due to an injury trailing just 1-0.

Lefthanded reliever Kyle Dodson stymied Tech through 3 1/3 innings, striking out five as Tech left the bases loaded in the third and two runners stranded in the fourth. He allowed one run before yielding the mound in the sixth.

Chad Hayes and Chad Oberacker had three hits each for the Golden Eagles, who finished with 12 hits in the contest. Oberacker reached base five times and drove in two runs.

Oberacker and Tate McMillan combined to give the Golden Eagles a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning. Oberacker led off with a sharp single to right field, stole second, and came racing around to score on a single to right by McMillan.

Dodson took over on the mound to start the third inning for SIUE and got into a jam, loading the bases with one out. He struck out two batters to end the threat and keep his squad within one run.

Dodson got out of another squeeze in the fourth after Tech put two runners on base with one out. The lefthander struck out another pair to quell Tech’s chances.

Catcher Brett Keller punched a soft single into center field with two outs in the sixth, the first hit allowed by Liberatore, who coaxed a groundout from the next batter to end the inning.

Liberatore struck out the first five batters who stepped to the plate. The only Cougar to reach base through the first three innings got on board via a Tech error, and he was erased on a double play. That allowed Liberatore to cruise through five innings facing the minimum of 15 hitters. After six frames, the senior from Rochester, Pa., had worked against just 19 batters, just one over the minimum.

Tech placed a three-spot on the board in the sixth as Zephan Guyear singled and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Cassanova Donaldson. Ben Burgess greeted reliever Brent Rynearson with a single to place runners at the corners, and Hayes delivered an RBI single to make it 2-0. Michael Morris and Oberacker followed with RBI singles to push the advantage to 4-0.

After Liberatore struck out the first two batters in the eighth, Joel Graetting drew a walk, bringing Pryor in from the bullpen. He got a strikeout to end the inning and Tech added a run in the bottom of the frame.

Donaldson hits a sharp drive off the leg of Rynearson for an infield single, and then stole second. With one out Hayes singled, and with two outs Oberacker punched an RBI single to make it 5-0.

The win was Tech’s second shutout of the season. Liberatore was also the winner the first time as the Golden Eagles blanked Buffalo on March 12 by a 9-0 count.