By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – For the second time in as many years, the No. 19 ranked Tennessee Tech baseball team has claimed the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship, taking home the 2018 title following a 12-6 victory over Eastern Kentucky Friday evening.
"First off, we have a great crew of assistant coaches and an incredible group of young men," head coach Matt Bragga remarked when asked what clinching the championship meant to the program. "Just a special, special group. This says a lot about a program and speaks to the consistency over the years. This a special night for the young men in our program."
The team's 10th overall title came on a night where history was meant to be broken. The Golden Eagles (42-6, 23-2) set the program record for wins with the six-run victory over the Colonels (26-24, 15-10), collecting their 42nd win of the season to break the previous mark set last season.
"It's awesome," Bragga explained about the record-breaking win. "When you got out to play, you want to win every game, and to be able to have 42 wins at this point is something really neat. Our guys deserve every one of them and they'll be ready to tomorrow. They'll know we have to come out here focused and ready to play as good a game of baseball as we can. We'll take our chances when we play good baseball."
Tossing at Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex for the final time in his four-year career, senior Travis Moths turned in gem for the Golden Eagles, tossing seven innings with just three earned runs allowed. The right-hander tied his season-high with nine strikeouts without walking a batter.
Moving to an OVC-best 11-1 on the year, Moths tied the Tech career record for victories with his 23rd overall win, matching the effort turned in by Tristan Archer (2010-13).
"Mo has been special for us for four years, and he's a guy that has just continued to work and develop into what he is today," Bragga said when asked about the impact of Moths this season. "Last year, he had an incredible season coming out of our bullpen. He through about three innings against Florida State in that game one win in the [NCAA] Regional.
"To be able to take the Friday-night role; it's what he wanted to do. He told me 'Coach, I'm coming back to school and I'm going to be the team's Friday-night guy. That's what I want to do, and I'm going to go do it.' And sure enough, he's gone out and taken it upon himself as a senior leader and done a great job. Of course he knows it's bigger than him. He has a bunch of great players around him and he is such a humble young man, but at the same time, he himself is a special talent and wonderful young man that we're grateful to have in our program."
The Golden Eagle offense jumped out early to provide Moths with a five-run lead he could cruise with comfortably the rest of the way. The Louisville, Tenn. native surrendered just three earned runs on the night, all on solo home runs
After Eastern Kentucky recorded two outs in the bottom of the second, with two men on, the Tech bats really went to work. Redshirt freshman Zell Walker laced a single through the left side to drive in the first run of the ball game.
Center fielder Alex Junior followed with a walk to load the bases, setting up senior Brennon Kaleiwahea for a two-run single to left field. After a walk to junior Kevin Strohschein, senior Chase Chambers delivered key knock, ripping a single up the middle to drive in two more for the 5-0 lead.
The Colonels gathered solo shots in the third and fifth inning, but Tech answered in the bottom of the fifth. Senior shortstop David Garza led off the frame with a double down the right field line. Senior Collin Harris then uncorked a two-run missile to left center field, his seventh home run of the season.
Not only did the bomb put the lead back to five runs, it also represented another milestone for Tech on the night. It marked the team's 107th long ball of the season, setting a new national, single-season record for most dingers during the BBCOR bat era.
EKU snagged another solo blast in the sixth, but once again, the Golden Eagle offense was up to the task of matching it and more. Strohschein drove in a run on a ground out to kick off the scoring, but it was a mighty swing from a newbie into the contest that delivered the crippling blow.
Pinch hitting in the bottom of the sixth, sophomore Anthony Carrera hammered a three-run jack-job to right field that not only cleared the fence, but landed on Tech Softball Field for a no-doubt shot. Eastern Kentucky scored three times in the ninth to go down with a fight, but Grant Phillips posted the final two outs before the dogpile on the mound could ensue.
Kaleiwahea led Tech offensively with a 3-for-3 showing that included two RBI, two runs scored and getting plunked twice.
The Golden Eagles and Colonels are slated to square off in game two of the series Saturday afternoon with a 2 p.m. CT start.
Photo by Thomas Corhern