Liberatore, Henry toss shutouts, strike out 21 in doubleheader sweep over EIU

COOKEVILLE , Tenn. – A dual performance by pitchers Adam Liberatore (pictured) and Lee Henry stunned the Eastern Illinois Panthers Saturday as Tennessee Tech posted back-to-back shutouts to sweep an Ohio Valley Conference doubleheader, 4-0 and 3-0.

The Golden Eagles will look to sweep the series with Sunday's final game at 1 p.m at Bush Stadium.

Liberatore (4-4) went the distance for his first complete game of the season, striking out a career-high 12 Panther batters. Fittingly, he fielded a sharp ground ball in the ninth and started a double play that ended the contest.

Henry (2-3) tied a career high in strikeouts with nine, pitching the second complete game shutout of the day.  He allowed only three hits by the Panthers in the 3-0, seven-inning victory.

The nation's leading home run hitter, A.J. Kirby-Jones, fueled the Golden Eagles in a dominating 4-0 victory in the first half of the doubleheader.

Tech took an early 2-0 lead over the Panthers in the bottom of the first when Kirby-Jones crushed the first pitch for a two-run homer after Tate McMillan was hit by a pitch.  Kirby-Jones leads the nation with 18 home runs this season and also broke the school's all time record for total bases.

Eastern Illinois had five hits in the following four innings by five different players.  Designated hitter Richie Derbak contributed a double in the second, third baseman Zach Borenstein added a single in the top of the third inning on a looper to left field, and short stop Cam Strang singled to third base in the fourth.  However, EIU couldn't convert and left three on base over the next three innings.

The top of the fifth inning showcased the first opportunity for EIU.  Pinch hitter Daniel Bracken split Tech's first and second basemen with a single into the outfield, and advanced to third on a double by leadoff hitter Curt Restko with one out.  With the tying run in scoring position, Liberatore got Zach Borenstein looking for the second out, and then fanned Ben Thoma on a 2-2 pitch.

Tech added another run in the bottom of the fifth after third baseman Zephan Guyear took a base on balls and advanced to third on a single up the middle by Austin Wulf.  McMillan laid down a sacrifice bunt to bring Guyear home for an RBI. 

The Panthers had another chance in the top of the seventh with runners on first and second, but Restko hit into the force out at third and Borenstein went down swinging for his second strike out of the day.

Guyear rounded the bases for a second time in the bottom of the seventh after a throwing error put him on first.  Wulf doubled down the right field line and advanced to third as Guyear beat the throw at home.  Wulf went 3-4 on the day for the Golden Eagles.

Tech capitalized in a pitching duel during game two of the series, tallying six hits and scoring all three runs in a late rally.

The Golden Eagles had another strong fifth inning, initiated by a single up the middle from second baseman Frankie BeechChad Hayes took first on a throwing error while Beech advanced to third and Guyear earned his first hit of the day with a perfect bunt to load the bases.  With one out, McMillan ripped a single up the middle and all three of his teammates came around to score.

Chad Oberacker, Ben Burgess and Casanova Donaldson each added a hit earlier on in the game, while Cam Strang contributed his third hit of the day for EIU.  Ben Thoma, and Richie Derbak also added singles for the Panthers.

Tech played perfect defense behind their pitchers in both games, committing no errors and leaving a total of 13 EIU runners on base over both games.