The 2013 and 2010 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year and the 2009 Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year, Matt Bragga recently finished his 10th season at the helm of the Tennessee Tech baseball team, leading the 2013 Golden Eagles to their third OVC championship season in the past five years.
2013 was another record-breaking year for Bragga’s squad as they compiled a school record 40 wins and an Ohio Valley Conference record 24 victories. The 2013 squad ranked near the top in the nation in several major categories, covering all facets of the game: pitching, defense, and offense. The team ranked seventh in the country in scoring (7.3 runs/game), 13th in fielding percentage (.979), seventh in home runs per game (.95), 26th in batting average (.303), eighth in slugging percentage (.464), and second in strikeouts per nine innings (9.0). The 2013 club also had eight members make the All-OVC first or second team, six of whom were underclassmen. The team also had one National Player of the week and one National Pitcher of the week.
The 2013 baseball team tied a school record with a 14-game win streak and beat the No. 2 nationally ranked Vanderbilt Commodores on the road. No team in any sport, in the history of Tennessee Tech athletics had ever beaten a higher ranked team prior to the win at Vanderbilt.
At the conclusion of the 2013 season, Bragga’s Golden Eagles compiled an 8-4 record against teams that reached the 64 team NCAA Regional field including a mark of 5-3 against opponents ranked in the top 35 in the country.
Off the field, the 2013 team excelled as well, as they set a program record for team G.P.A. They finished the fall semester with a 3.177 mark and bettered that in the spring with 3.215. Twenty-six out of 35 team members had a 3.0 G.P.A. or higher this spring. This is the fifth year out of the past six where a new team G.P.A. record was set and then broken the next school year.
In 2012, one of Bragga’s former student-athletes, Stephen Pryor, reached the Major Leagues with the Seattle Mariners. Pryor had been a fifth round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2010 and flashed a 100 mph fastball in his MLB debut against the Chicago White Sox in June of 2012.
Offensively in 2012, the Golden Eagles were splendid, ranking 26th in the nation in batting average (.299), 13th in home runs per game (.92), 19th in on base percentage (.391), and 29th in slugging percentage (.434). On the mound, Matthew Shepherd helped lead the pitching staff and was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the June MLB draft. Five players from the 2012 team were named All-Conference and power-hitting first baseman Zach Stephens was named second team All-Region.
The 2011 Golden Eagles finished fourth in the league standings as four student-athletes were named to All-OVC teams. Slugger Zach Stephens was named to the TPX freshman All-American Team and 2010 First Team All-American Chad Oberacker was drafted for the second time in his Tech career, going to the Oakland Athletics. In the classroom, the 2011 team posted the best team G.P.A. in school history with a 2.94 combined fall and spring mark.
In 2010 the Golden Eagles finished the season winning 15 of their last 16 conference games to win the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship, their second title in as many years. The team was also voted the league's Sportsmanship Award winner.
2010 also marked the first time in history that the Tech program had won 30+ games in a season for three straight years. Individually, five team members were voted to All-Conference teams and sluggers Chad Oberacker and A.J. Kirby-Jones were both named TPX/ABCA first team All-Americans, the first time in school history that two players had been named first team All-America in one decade, let alone one season.
Beyond being ranked 29th nationally in batting average (.332) and 12th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.7), the team also boasted the second highest team G.P.A. in its history, garnering a 2.915. The 2010 club also set a program record for Major League Baseball draft picks in a season when four Golden Eagles heard their names called in the MLB Draft. Right handed flame thrower Stephen Pryor went to the Seattle Mariners in the fifth round, all-time home run king A.J. Kirby-Jones went to the Oakland A’s in the ninth round, all-time hits leader Chad Oberacker went to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 19th round, and power left handed pitcher Adam Liberatore was chosen by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 21st round. All four of these young men are still playing as Pryor is in the big leagues with the Mariners, Liberatore in Triple A with the Rays, Oberacker in Double A with the A’s, and Kirby-Jones in Double A with the Padres.
In 2009, the Golden Eagles made a thrilling run to sweep the Ohio Valley Conference baseball tournament and eliminate No. 14 Alabama from the NCAA regionals, setting the standard for what proved to be an epic 2010 season. They finished the 2009 season with a 31-24-1 record, marking the first back-to-back 30-win seasons in Tech history. The Golden Eagles swept the OVC tournament, going 4-0, including back-to-back extra-inning victories over Jacksonville State to clinch the OVC title.
They went on to the NCAA regional in Clemson, S.C., where they eliminated No. 14 Alabama before being eliminated by eventual regional-champion Clemson. The Golden Eagles had two all-conference team members, six all-tournament team members, and the OVC tournament MVP in A.J. Kirby-Jones. Alex Henry was also named to the all-regional team at the Clemson Regional. Following the 2009 season, pitcher Ryan Dennick was drafted by Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Royals.
Off the field the 2009 club established the top G.P.A. mark in school history with a 2.928 mark for the year.
Bragga has built a solid foundation for his program — on the field and in the classroom — during his nine and a half years as head coach, and knows that Tech baseball will continue to reach new heights in and out of the Ohio Valley Conference.
In 2011, 10 Golden Eagles were named to the OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll, bringing the total number of players who have earned the honor to 65. This is the second time at least 10 Golden Eagles have been named to the honor roll in a season under Bragga.
The veteran coach continues his work toward redefining the program with high ideals and even greater expectations.
Taking over the head coaching reins in January 2004, Bragga has shown the dedication needed to win multiple OVC championships, and his players exhibit that same down-to-earth determination, day-in and day-out. His plan has brought about marked improvements in the team’s on-field performance, academic performance, alumni support and program facilities.
On the field, Bragga’s silent resolve has taken the program from a 13-42 record in his first full year in 2005, improving 5.5 games in 2006 with a record of 18-36, making an eight game improvement in 2007 with a record of 26-28, and another seven game improvement in 2008 as the Golden Eagles went 35-23-1, leading to the OVC championship and an NCAA Regional berth in 2009 and two more OVC Championships in 2010 and 2013. With success on the recruiting trails, Bragga continues to take the baseball program to a new level.
Before taking the head coaching position at Tech, Bragga spent three and a half years as an assistant coach at Birmingham Southern College under head coach Brian Shoop from July 2000 to December 2003. He spent the majority of his time at BSC working as the hitting and outfielder coach as well as recruiting for the Panthers. Under Bragga’s direction, BSC hitters batted a combined .316 during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
In 2004, after accepting the job as Tennessee Tech head coach Bragga, led his former Birmingham-Southern ball club win the Big South Conference title, winning 47 games and losing just 18. They received an at-large birth to the NCAA Regional’s in Athens, GA in BSC’s first year eligible for NCAA D-I post season play. In 2003, the BSC team went 33-18 as 10 Panthers hit over .300 for a team batting average of .318. The Panthers scored 7.9 runs per game which ranked 15th in NCAA Division I. For the 2002 season, BSC’s first as an NCAA D-I member, the Panthers finished with a 32-20 record. Before moving to the NCAA Division I for the 2002 season, the Panthers won the school’s first ever NAIA National Championship in 2001 as 11 Panthers hit .300 or better and averaged 8.5 runs per game. In 2001, the Panthers set a school record for most wins in a season, going 55-11.
Bragga also owned some head coaching experience before coming to Tech. At the age of 25, prior to his role at Birmingham Southern, Bragga served as the head coach at Bevill State (Ala.) Community College for four seasons.
Bragga took over a Bevill State baseball program that, prior to his arrival, had an all-time record of 175-350 (.343), and was considered by many one of the worst programs in the state of Alabama. With the Bears going 39-20 in 1998, Bragga’s second season at Bevill State resulted in a school record for most wins in one season. That team also participated in the schools first-ever postseason tournament. In 1999, Bragga led his squad to a 40-19 record, surpassing his previous record and taking the team to another regional tournament.
During his time at Bevill, his teams compiled a 148-86 record and BSCC went from a .343 winning percentage prior to Bragga’s arrival, to one of Alabama’s best Community/Junior College programs, amassing a remarkable .630 winning percentage during his time.
Before jumping into the college ranks, Bragga served as head coach for the Junior American Legion Baseball Team Post 208 that won the Alabama state championship in 1996. That same year, he also took on the role as assistant coach for the Tuscaloosa County High School baseball squad.
One aspect that makes Bragga such an influential coach, and what some describe as a player’s coach, is that he has coached and played at nearly every level of baseball. Bragga played his collegiate career for the University of Kentucky Wildcats, earning four letters from 1991 to 1994.
He played multiple positions at Kentucky, including outfield, catcher, first base and designated hitter, and also excelled at the plate. Bragga earned multiple honors including second-team All-Southeast region and Southeastern Conference all-tournament first-team in 1993. In his senior season Bragga finished with a .408 batting average in SEC play, which ranked him second in the league.
He also etched his name in the Kentucky baseball record books, ranking among UK’s all-time best in multiple season and career categories. During Bragga’s four-year career with UK, the baseball team compiled the most wins in any four-year period of UK baseball, a record which was recently broken by the 2005-2008 Kentucky squads.
After graduating from Kentucky with a degree in communications, Bragga signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds organization in 1994. He played one season in the Pioneer League with the Butte (Montana) Copper Kings before moving to Charleston, W.Va., to play with the Cincinnati Reds’ Single A affiliate the following season. Bragga earned his master’s degree from the University of Alabama.
Matt is married to the former Elisa Currins, a 1997 graduate of the University of Alabama. The couple are the proud parents of two children — Luke and Emerson.