By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Win number 14 of the nation's longest winning streak turned out to be perhaps the most thrilling thus far for the Tennessee Tech baseball team.
The Golden Eagles (23-5, 12-1) tied the longest streak in program history in style Friday afternoon, rallying for a 9-8, walk-off victory over Jacksonville State (16-11, 6-4) to claim game one of the Ohio Valley Conference series.
Headed into the bottom of the ninth knotted at eight runs apiece, Tech used the heart of the order to earn its 14th consecutive win. Junior Kevin Strohschein led off the frame with a single to right field on the first pitch he saw.
Senior Chase Chambers took his spot at the dish next, and quickly fell behind in the count 0-2. He took a ball on the next offering and fouled off a strikeout attempt to keep his at bat alive. Then, the four-year starter delivered one of the biggest hits of the season, ripping a double just inside the first-base line that brought Strohschein all the way around from first for the winning run.
It marked the first walk-off hit of first baseman's career and second hit of the game as part of a 2-for-4 showing and two RBI performance.
Tech actually owned a 4-0 lead in the contest, taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second thanks to an RBI single up the middle by senior catcher Brennon Kaleiwahea.
The power showed up in the third inning, with senior Collin Harris kicking off the fireworks by blasting the first pitch over the wall in right center field for his third home run of the season. Two batters later, senior third baseman Trevor Putzig went deep, hammering his ninth dinger of the year to left center field.
Strohschein made it back-to-back jacks with a solo blast so hard, it cleared the massive batter's eye in center field on the fly. His ninth long ball of the season made it a 4-0 lead.
Jacksonville State went on to take advantage of several miscues by the Golden Eagle defense in the fourth and fifth innings, scoring seven consecutive unearned runs off of a relatively effective Travis Moths. The senior hurler finished with a no-decision, striking out five and walking just one in four and two thirds innings.
Tech took back a run in the fifth on a Chambers RBI single and another in the sixth with a wacky play. With senior shortstop David Garza at second base, the Gamecocks attempted a pick off play that ricocheted off of Garza's leg and into no man's land in shallow right center field. The odd location of where the ball landed not only allowed Garza to advance to third, but also score on the play and cut the deficit to one.
JSU made it a two-run lead again in the seventh, but the Golden Eagle offense answered the bell again.
The Golden Eagles loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the seventh behind a brilliant at bat by Chambers. The senior turned a 1-2 count into a seven-pitch free pass to provide junior John Ham with a chance for heroics. Ham delivered, lacing a two-run, game-tying single to left field on the first pitch he saw.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Sylvester picked up his third win of the season after tossing two huge innings of relief and finishing the game. The right-hander entered the contest in the top of the eighth with two runners and no outs. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners into scoring position, Sylvester dug deep, gathering back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat and keep the game tied at 8-8. He finished the contest without allowing a hit and walking just one.
Strohschein finished 2-for-5 with three runs scored while Ham posted two RBI on a 2-for-4 day. Putzig, Kaleiwahea and Harris each posted multiple hits as well.
The two teams are scheduled to square off in game two of the series Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. CT at Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex. With inclement weather expected in the Cookeville area throughout the weekend, fans are encouraged to check social media and the TTUSports.com website for updates concerning this weekend's schedule.
Photo by Thomas Corhern