By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A slobber knocker early, the Tennessee Tech baseball team out-slugged visiting Valparaiso Tuesday afternoon, earning a 12-8 victory in the friendly confines of Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.
Fresh off his first career Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week and Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week honors, sophomore Jason Hinchman continued his torrid run with a performance for the record books. The Tech first baseman tied the program's single-game record for home runs, smashing three in the ball game on his way to a career-high seven RBI.
He tied the mark of several Golden Eagles, including teammate Kevin Strohschein, who slugged three in a contest against Illinois State last season.
All but two of the 20 combined runs scored in the contest came within the first four innings, with the two teams trading blows to the tune of five lead changes throughout the day. It began with Valparaiso picking up an unearned run in the first.
Tech answered immediately in the bottom half, with Hinchman doing the honors. After an RBI double to center field by Strohschein, the Winston, Ga. native hammered a two-run blast to center field, giving the Golden Eagles a 3-1 lead.
The Crusaders retaliated with a trio of runs in the top of the second, recapturing the advantage, 4-3. Once again, it was Hinchman who produced Tech's response. After a quick first out, Jay Meuse was hit by a pitch, Strohschein singled through the left side and Anthony Carrera drew a walk, loading the bases for the Golden Eagle basher.
After working a 2-2 count, Hinchman hit the next offering so flush, not a soul in the stadium doubted the ball would end up over the wall in left field. The long ball marked the youngster's first grand slam of his career and put Tech back on top, 7-5.
Valpo picked away with a run in the third and then jumped right back in front in the fourth, plating three to take an 8-7 lead. Designated hitter John Dyer tied things back up for the Golden Eagles in the bottom half, blasting an RBI double over the head of the right fielder.
Later in the frame, with the bases loaded, Carrera sprinted home for what would be the game-winning run, scoring on a wild pitch. Two batters later, it was Dyer denting home plate on another wild offering, providing a 10-8 advantage.
Hinchman accounted for the one of the final two runs of the contest, hammering his third dinger of the game, a solo shot to centerfield. Dyer came up next and crushed the next pitch to centerfield for his second double of the game. Fellow freshman, Jason Hogan, drove him in with his own double down the first base line.
Junior southpaw Nic Dye picked up the victory to move to 2-1 on the season after tossing two and a third innings out the bullpen. He entered the contest with a bases-loaded jam in the fourth after Valpo had already scored three runs in the frame. The steely-eyed hurler struck out his opponent, ending the further threat. He cruised over the next two innings as well, putting a damper on a heavy offense attack earlier in the contest.
Jacob Parham delivered back-to-back scoreless frames with a pair of punchouts, paving the way for senior Zack Wilcox to finish things off. The right-hander covered the final frame with a strikeout and no base runners allowed.
With the victory, Tech reached the 10-5 mark through its first 15 games for the third consecutive year, matching the efforts of the back-to-back OVC regular season championship winning squads of 2017 and 2018.
The Golden Eagles will hit the road for an in-state battle with Lipscomb on Wednesday, meeting up at Dugan Field in Nashville for a 4:00 p.m. CT tilt.
Photo by Tony Marable