By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The long ball and the bullpen set the tone for the Tennessee Tech baseball team Saturday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles pulled even in its Ohio Valley Conference series with in-state rival Belmont following a 9-6 victory.
Tech (18-23, 6-14) used four home runs and nine total hits to provide the damage offensively in the contest, tagging Cookeville native and Belmont (21-21, 15-8) hurler Joshua South for seven runs over seven innings.
The Bruins took the lead early in the back-and-forth affair that featured four lead changes, plating one in the top of the second on an RBI double down the left field line. Tech answered back in force in the bottom of the third.
Second baseman Nathan McMeans ripped a double down the left field line on the first pitch of the frame. Freshman catcher Will Long followed suit, lacing his own two-bagger down the left field stripe to tie things at 1-1 and drive in his first collegiate run.
The hero of the contest, freshman JD Funk, kept the double train rolling on the next offering, rifling one down the right field line to give Tech a 2-1 lead. A sacrifice bunt moved him over and All-American Kevin Strohschein drove him in with a sacrifice fly to left center field for a 3-1 advantage.
In the fourth, Belmont jumped back on top with a couple of dingers scoring three and making it a 4-3 contest in favor of the visitors. In the bottom half, it was junior Gavin Johns who helped keep a historical streak intact. With two outs, he blasted a solo shot to left field to tie the game at 4-4.
It represented the Golden Eagles' 17th consecutive game with at least one home run, extending the program record. A two-run top of the sixth put the Bruins back on top once more, providing a 6-4 advantage.
The Golden Eagles took one run back in the bottom half of the frame, as freshman John Dyer pulverized an 0-1 offering to left field to make it a 6-5 game. It marked the youngster's seventh round-tripper of the year.
Johns led off the seventh inning with a single, trying to breathe life into the offense, but two quick outs seemed to put a damper on Tech's chances of scoring. A failed pickoff attempt by South allowed an alert Johns to scamper all the way to third and provide some late pressure on the freshman pitcher with Funk at the dish.
After missing his first two swings of the at bat, Funk just got a piece of an outside pitch to keep the at bat alive. He watched the next pitch miss the zone before uncorking an absolute moon shot for a two-run, no-doubt bomb over the batter's eye in center field. The two-out dinger marked the rookie's fourth of the year and put Tech back on top, 7-6.
In the eighth, junior Anthony Carrera added some clutch insurance after Strohschein led off the frame with a single. With two outs and a 1-2 count, the left fielder hammered his own two-run jack to center field, this one clanging off the top of the batter's eye to make it a 9-6 ball game in favor of the purple and gold. It represented Carrera's 12th wall-clearing hit of the season.
Redshirt freshman southpaw Connor Adams (2-1) earned the win on the day, completing one and two third frames out of the bullpen. Senior right-hander Zack Wilcox picked up his first save of the season, shutting down the final two innings with just a single base runner allowed.
Funk paced the Tech offense with a 2-for-2 showing that included two runs, three RBI and a walk. Johns also notched a pair of hits and runs scored. Seven different Golden Eagles registered both at least one hit and one run scored in the contest.
The series finale and rubber match is scheduled for a 1:00 p.m. CT first pitch Sunday afternoon at Quillen Field and Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.
Photo by Tony Marable