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May 18, 2010

Tech downs Catamounts, 11-2; Gets set for OVC showdown

Ranked third nationally in batting average, Oberacker goes 2-for-3;
Kirby-Jones clubs two more home runs to break school record

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Things could not have worked out any better Tuesday for the Tennessee Tech baseball team.

Yes, they added a win to their season total with an 11-2 non-conference victory over Western Carolina in Bush Stadium. Tech has now won 14 of its last 17 games while improving to 26-23 overall.

There were a handful of heroes. Chad Hayes hit a two-run home run to jump start the offense on his way to three RBI. A.J. Kirby-Jones shrugged off strikeouts in his first three at bats to slug two opposite field home runs and break the school single-season record. They were his 21st and 22nd of the season.

Chad Oberacker, who came into the game ranked third in the nation with a .451 batting average, went 2-for-3 to raise his season mark to .455.

On the mound, senior Wade Bilbrey (1-0) [pictured] logged four strong innings to earn the win, and four Tech hurlers combined on a four-hitter with 11 strikeouts.

But, the biggest thing to come out of the contest was that coach Matt Bragga's bullpen will be rested for the upcoming series with Murray State.

The Golden Eagles have just with two days of rest before Tech hosts the Racers in a three-game set in Bush Stadium that could determine the regular season Ohio Valley Conference champion.

Tech got a wining performance from some seldom-used pitchers in notching the mid-week triumph.

Starter Nick Price overcame a shaky first inning and started a streak of eight scoreless innings by Tech's mound staff. The Catamounts scored one earned run and another unearned run in the first inning to take a 2-0 lead. With one out, Matt Johns doubled and Tyler Kirkpatrick reached second on an error in the outfield that scored Johns. Ross Heffley's single made it 2-0 before Price settled down. He retired the next two batters and pitched a 1-2-3 second inning.

Bilbrey worked four innings, striking out six and allowing just two singles to record his first win of the season.

Ben Burgess, Tech's usual starting catcher, looked solid in two innings without allowing a hit in the seventh or eighth. Oberacker, a candidate for the John Olerud Two-Way Player Award, struck out all three batters he faced in the ninth.

Meanwhile, Hayes clubbed his fourth home run of the year with Devin Rivers aboard in the fourth to tie the game at 2-2. Tech had stranded five runners in the first three innings against WCU starter Preston Hatcher (1-2), who eventually took the loss despite a solid start.

Oberacker singled to lead off the Tech fifth, stole second, and scored what proved to be the winning run on a double by Seth Edwards. Hayes collected his third RBI of the game with a single to make it a 4-2 lead.

Tech scored four more in the sixth, beginning with a one-out home run by Kirby-Jones that broke the school record.  He topped his own record that he had established last year with 20.

Oberacker was hit by a pitch and Edwards singled, followed by a two-run triple from freshman Zephan Guyear to make it 7-2. Brandon Crossman's sacrifice fly made it 8-2 through six innings.

With two outs in the seventh, Kirby-Jones launched a blast deep to right for his second home run of the game and 22nd of the season to make it 9-2.

Tech added two more in the eighth on two hits. The big blow was an RBI double by freshman Austin Wulf with two outs, making it 11-2.

Six Golden Eagles had multi-hit games, topped by Hayes with a 3-for-5 performance Wulf, Kirby-Jones, Oberacker, Edwards and Crossman had two hits each. Tate McMillan walked three times. In all, seven of the Golden Eagles' 15 hits were for extra bases.

Johns was 2-for-4 for Western Carolina, accounting for half of the Catamounts four hits.

Hatcher threw four innings, walking four and striking out a career-high six. He allowed three runs on five hits. He was the first of six pitcher used by Western Carolina, whose record moved to 31-19-1.

Tech and Murray State will play a doubleheader Friday beginning at 1 p.m., and a single game Saturday with the same start time.  Admission is free.