By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
CHARLESTON, Ill. – A thrilling comeback turned into a smooth-sailing victory for the Tennessee Tech baseball team Sunday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles (21-5, 11-1) extended the nation's longest winning streak with a 26-11 win at Eastern Illinois (9-17, 1-8).
Tech claimed its 12th straight victory and ninth consecutive Ohio Valley Conference win after overcoming an eight-run deficit in the sixth inning. The Golden Eagles sit just three wins shy of setting the program record for consecutive wins and are off to the best start over the first 26 games of a season in school history.
It was a strange day for anyone watching the two OVC teams square off, almost as if there was an April's Fool joke involved. After five innings of play, Eastern Illinois led the nation's most potent offense by an eye-popping 10-2 score.
Like the flip of a switch, the Golden Eagles erased that deficit to take the lead for good and unleash an unstoppable attack that accounted for 24 unanswered runs. Tech plated a whopping 11 runs in the top of the sixth inning, eliminating the eight-run deficit and turning it into a three-run lead. Fourteen batters took to the plate in the frame.
Senior Trevor Putzig and junior Kevin Strohschein got things started, blasting back-to-back home runs to open the inning. Chase Chambers and John Ham followed with back-to-back walks and, two batters later, Nick Osborne joined them on the base paths with his own free pass.
Brennon Kaleiwahea laced a double to right field to drive in two runs and cut the EIU lead to four runs, but the Panthers picked up the second out of the frame with Alex Junior making his way to the plate. The junior outfielder ignored the pressure of the situation, blasting a three-run shot to right field to pull Tech to within just a single run.
Putzig followed by doubling down the left field line and then advanced to third base on a wild pitch. Strohschein reached on an error by the shortstop, allwoing Putzig to tie the game at 10-10. The Golden Eagles weren't ready to call it an inning just yet, however. Chambers drew another walk to set up Ham for his team-leading 10th long ball of the season, a three-run bomb to center field that provided a three-run lead.
The bats were just warming up.
Clearly frustrated with being held scoreless over the first four innings, the Tech offense scored three more runs in the seventh, highlighted by a two-run double to right field by Strohschein. The eighth was no different, as the offense tacked on three more thanks to a three-run blast off the bat of Kaleiwahea.
The ninth inning proved even more effective. The Golden Eagles scored seven more runs in their final go around in the contest, with pinch-hitter Anthony Carrera getting in on the long ball action with a three-run dinger.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Sylvester earned his second win of the season after tossing three and a third innings in relief on the day. He struck out three while moving to 2-0 on the year.
Coming as little surprise to the Tech faithful, Sunday's victory marked the third time this year that the Golden Eagles struck for at least 26 runs, scoring 27 in a victory against Lipscomb and 30 in a win over Illinois State earlier in the year.
Chambers set a new program, single-game record in the contest, drawing five walks. He finished 1-for-3 with four runs scored. Kaleiwahea led Tech with six RBI as part of a 3-for-6 effort with three runs scored. Strohschein drove in three runs with a 3-for-6 performance, which included his eighth home run of the season.
Ham also collected four RBI, finishing the day 3-for-5 with four runs scored. Putzig smacked his eighth dinger of the year while gathering four hits in six at bats. He drove in two and scored three runs.
Tech will return to action Wednesday, Apr. 4 with a midweek, road contest at Kennesaw State. First pitch is set for a 4 p.m. CT start.
Photo by Tony Marable