By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Home runs were hit. Runs were scored. Records were broken. When all was said and done Saturday afternoon, Tennessee Tech came out on top, winning a crazy, four-hour and 51-minute shootout in game two of its three-game series against Illinois State, 30-17.
The Golden Eagles (4-1) broke five school records against the Redbirds (2-3), while two Tech players tied individual program marks. Already a vaunted offense, TTU showed off the power to the tune of a program-best 11 home runs on the day, shattering the previous mark of eight set back in 2008. The home squad also mashed five in the third frame alone, a single-inning record for the team.
Tech's 27 hits in the contest also set a new standard for the program, besting previous record of 26 set in 2016. Combined, the two teams totaled 47 runs (easily beating the past record of 40) and 15 home runs (much better than the previous mark of 10).
The win marked just the third time in program history that a Golden Eagle squad scored at least 30 runs in single contest.
Senior Trevor Putzig and junior Kevin Strohschein each tied the school record for home runs in a single game, blasting three apiece in the contest. Putzig led the way offensively, finishing 5-for-6 with career-highs of five runs scored and seven RBI. Strohschein tallied four RBI and four runs as part of a 4-for-7 showing.
Junior center fielder Alex Junior finished just a single shy of the cycle, recording a double, triple and home run as part of a 3-for-5 display out of the leadoff spot. He drove in three while scoring four times. Chase Chambers added four RBI to the mix while David Garza, Jason Hinchman and Brennon Kaleiwahea also tallied multiple RBI.
Making his first collegiate start, redshirt freshman outfielder Zell Walker totaled three RBI with a 2-for-4 day, scoring four time while also clubbing his first home run as a Golden Eagle. Fellow redshirt freshman Tyler Sylvester picked up his first career in his first collegiate appearance, tossing the final two innings of no-hit and scoreless ball, a rarity on the day.
Illinois State looked to be in control of things early, attacking right out of the gate with three runs in the top of the first. Tech answered with a solo shot off the bat of Putzig, but things stayed relatively quiet until the third.
Trailing 3-1, Tech kicked off a scoring frenzy and pseudo home run derby in the bottom of the third, beginning with a solo bomb down the right field line by Junior, his third of the year. Putzig made it back-to-back jacks with his second solo dinger of the game.
Strohschein narrowly cranked out another consecutive long ball in the next at bat, but had to settle for a double off the wall in right field. Chambers followed, getting the Golden Eagles back into the home run spirit with a 2-run moon shot to center field. Not to be outdone, junior John Ham went back-to-back with Chambers thanks to a long ball to right field. Three batters later, Walker helped the team make history with its fifth round-tripper of the inning, a two-run oppo taco to right field.
The 8-3 lead became 8-6 relatively quickly, but the Golden Eagle offense trudged forward, plating five more in the bottom of the fourth, without the benefit of a home run, for a 13-6 advantage. Once again, the Redbirds answered, this time retaking the lead, 14-13, with eight runs in the top of the fifth.
In the blink of an eye, things were tied at 14-14. On a full count, Strohschein torched a leadoff boomer to right center field to knot things up. While it represented the only long ball of the frame, it kicked off another scoring frenzy that equated to eight more Tech runs and a commanding 21-14 lead.
Illinois State managed to score single runs in each of the next three innings, but Tech bested that mark with a total of nine over the final three frames. The offensive onslaught that carried over to the final three innings included Garza's first wall jumper, as well as Strohschein's second and third canaries and Putzig's third pop tart. (With so many home runs, we've had to make up a few synonyms).
All-in-all, the record-breaking performance ended in the most important stat of them all, a W.
Tech will look for the series sweep of Illinois State on Sunday afternoon. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. CT at Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex. With rain and inclement weather expected in the area this weekend, fans are encouraged to check social media and the TTUSports.com website for updates concerning this weekend's schedule.
Photo by Tony Marable