COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – If there's one thing that fans of the Tennessee Tech baseball team have come to expect, it's that the team faces a tough schedule, year-in and year-out. This year's squad will not disappoint as the Golden Eagles revealed yet another beauty when they released their 2013 schedule.
Highlighting the schedule are seven opponents all ranked or receiving votes in the preseason poll. Local in-state power Vanderbilt, who is ranked No. 3 overall heading into the 2013 season, headlines the group. Tennessee, Western Carolina, Michigan State and Illinois are among those non-conference opponents who received preseason votes, while Austin Peay and Belmont represent the Ohio Valley Conference among the preseason poll vote getters.
"Over the years, we've always scheduled really tough," said head coach Matt Bragga." It's just what we've done. I think last year we played Texas Tech twice, Clemson, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Missouri State, who was a Top 30 club. It was a really good schedule and we've got another good one this year."
Perhaps the most noteworthy points of the Golden Eagles' schedule this year are home series against Big Ten opponents Illinois and Michigan State. Tech will open the 2013 schedule with a three-game series against the Fighting Illini on Feb. 15-17. The Spartans of Michigan State will make a two-game trip to Cookeville for a midweek series on March 5-6.
"Being able to bring in Illinois, Michigan State, and some other big name programs into our place where our fans can come and watch and enjoy is fantastic," Bragga remarked.
Also expected to perk up the interest of Tech baseball fans are one-game road trips to Tennessee (Mar. 26) and No. 3 Vanderbilt (Apr. 16). Golden Eagle followers will hope for the same result as last season's meeting in Knoxville with the Volunteers, as Tech upset Tennessee, 5-1.
"When you play the larger programs, normally their depth is very good," Bragga added. "And then their top line guys are very good. That's normally what you get from those top name programs. It's great for our guys to play those schools. Last year I think we won just two of the eight games we played against those top teams. That isn't good enough and we're better than that and are capable of being better than that."
Twelve of the Golden Eagles' first 13 games of the season will be home contests that include both the Illinois and Michigan State series as well as three-game stints against Bowling Green and Niagara. In-state rival Middle Tennessee marks the final home game in that grouping in what will be a home-and-away agreement.
"We've got our typical non-conference middle of the week scheduling going there," Bragga said. "Most of them are great rivalries, especially with the in-state schools. It's a great schedule. I think we have 33 home games and about 23 on the road. It's a little home-heavy, which I've always liked."
The Golden Eagles kick-off their OVC schedule with a trip to Richmond, Ky., on March 8 to take on the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky. Joining the Colonels on Tech's list of OVC road trips will be UT Martin (March 22-24), back-to-back OVC champion Austin Peay (April 5-7), Jacksonville State (April 19-21), and Southeast Missouri (May 10-12).
Among the OVC opponents to make the trip to Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex are Morehead State (March 15-17), SIU Edwardsville (March 28-30), Eastern Illinois (April 12-14), Murray State (April 26-28), and back-to-back Atlantic Sun champion and new OVC in-state foe Belmont (May 16-17).
"Conference-wise, Austin Peay has now won the league two years in a row, which makes them the team at the top of our league right now, no question," Bragga remarked. "They're a very good team with a lot of good players coming back. They'll be the team to beat. Jacksonville State has been fantastic since joining the league. They'll be another really good team. Belmont is coming off back-to-back Atlantic Sun Championships, so they're obviously a good baseball team."
The Tech squad will play four home-and-away series this season, including three against long-time in-state rivals. Lipscomb, which marks the lone road trip for the Golden Eagles in their first 13 games, will return the trip on May 14. Middle Tennessee, which will make the Feb. 26 trek to Cookeville, will host Tech on April 9. Not to be left out, East Tennessee State will welcome TTU on April 2 before making the return trip to the Tech campus on May 1. Alabama A&M marks the fourth team to participate in a home-and-away with the Golden Eagles with the home match-up on April 24 and the road trip on March 19.
"Our guys understand that if we're going to compete at the highest level of college baseball, these are the teams that you have to be able to not just compete against, but you have to be able to beat," Bragga remarked. "We've always prided ourselves by playing the Michigan States, the Purdues, the Kentuckys, the Tennessees and so on, because I think it's a great barometer of where our program is at nationally. And that's what we want. Yeah we want to win the OVC. That's a goal we have. But we want to be able to compete nationally year in and year out as well."
"It will be interesting and fun to see how our guys respond this year," added Bragga. "I really like our club and they love these types of challenges. They love playing schools like that are challenging. But they also know that when you go up against those schools, you're going to see some very fine baseball players."
Admission to all of TTU's home games in Bush Stadium at the Averitt Baseball Complex is free of charge. Game days and start times are subject to change.