By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Looking for its fourth Ohio Valley Conference sweep of the year and to extend the nation's longest winning streak to a program best 16 games, the Tennessee Tech baseball team left no doubt Sunday afternoon, defeating Jacksonville State 11-7.
After fighting back for walk-off victories on both Friday and Saturday, the Golden Eagles (25-5, 14-1) wasted little time in putting a dent in the scoreboard for an early lead over the Gamecocks (16-13, 6-6). On the just the second offering of the bottom of the first, center fielder Alex Junior lifted a line drive just over the fence in right center field for a leadoff home run.
Two batters later, junior Kevin Strohschein singled through the left side after working a brilliant eight-pitch at bat. Senior Chase Chambers followed with a bloop single to shallow center field and just after that, junior John Ham earned a five-pitch walk to load the bases.
A day after boasting five RBI and scoring the winning run, senior shortstop David Garza took to the batter's box with a chance to post a crooked number for Tech in the first. The veteran leader delivered again, crushing a 3-1 offering that easily cleared the left field fence for a grand slam and 5-0 Golden Eagle lead.
The Gamecocks showed plenty of fight, grabbing a run back in the top of the first and then tying the game in the fifth after Nic Gaddis turned in a grand slam of his own. While it would have been easy to let shock set in, the Golden Eagles continued to show the fight and grit they boasted all series, returning the favor in the bottom half of the frame.
Jacksonville State starter Colton Pate gathered two quick outs to start Tech's half of the fifth, but Ham turned the page for the Golden Eagles by ripping a double down the third-base line. Garza came up clutch again, recapturing the home lead with an RBI single through the left side of the infield.
Junior Nick Osborne, the hero of Saturday's walk-off thriller, showed patience in drawing a five-pitch walk, bringing youngster Zell Walker to the dish. The redshirt freshman announced his presence with authority, hammering the first offering to left center field for a three-run moon shot. Instantly, it was a 9-5 Tech lead.
Chambers added some insurance to the Golden Eagle effort in the eighth, blasting his eighth long ball of the year, a two-run shot off the batter's eye in center field, to make it an 11-5 advantage.
Jax State managed a pair of runs with two outs in the ninth, but junior Ethan Roberts forced a ground ball to himself and flipped it to Chambers to secure the win and continue the team's historic streak.
Roberts was brilliant in relief in the contest, tossing the final four and one third innings to pick up his third victory of the season. The right-hander allowed just four hits, two walks and two earned runs in the contest, with three hits, a walk and both runs coming in the ninth with two outs.
The Sparta native struck out six and forced a double play ball while heling Tech continue the best start to a season in program history. Garza finished the contest 2-for-4 with five RBI, a walk and two runs scored. Chambers completed a 3-for-5 day with two runs and two RBI and Ham turned in two doubles in four at bats.
Tech 16 straight wins represents the most by an OVC team since the 2013 Austin Peay squad accomplished the feat.
The Golden Eagles will remain in Cookeville for a midweek match-up with in-state rival Middle Tennessee on Wednesday, Apr. 11. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. CT as Tech goes for its 17th consecutive victory.
Photo by Thomas Corhern