By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was a long day at the ballpark for the Tennessee Tech baseball team Saturday, but even a two-hour-and-40-minute rain delay couldn't spoil a well-earned victory over in-state and Ohio Valley Conference rival Belmont.
The Golden Eagles (13-17, 7-9) used the long ball to do their damage at Quillen Field and Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex, taking down the Bruins (17-18, 9-10) for the second time this season on their home diamond, 9-7. Tech also defeated Belmont in midweek action back on Mar. 23, an 11-4 decision in a contest with no league implications.
It looked like a pitcher's duel early between two of the OVC's premier starters, with Belmont's Joshua South and Tech's Ty Fisher trading zeroes on the scoreboard for the first two frames. While the Golden Eagle southpaw went on to hang another three blank spots on the board for his team, the Tech offense took over in chasing the Bruin ace from the contest after the fifth.
In the bottom of the third, right fielder Theo Bryant IV got the purple and gold offense rolling, crushing a laser off the batter's eye in center field for his second home run of the season. Three batters later, the OVC's Preseason Player of the Year, center fielder Jason Hinchman, took the league's Preseason Pitcher of the Year deep as well, blasting a two-run jack to left-center field.
Hinchman's dinger off of South marked the 38th of his Tech career, moving him past former Golden Eagle slugger Ryan Flick for fifth on the program's career home run charts.
The home bats got back after it in the fifth, putting two of their first three on to set up second baseman Brett Roberts for some more fireworks. The returning freshman connected on a 1-0 offering for a 3-run blast to right-center field, one of his two hits on the day.
Three batters later, senior Cody Littlejohn continued the onslaught, hammering his team-leading eighth round-tripper of the year to right-center field for an 8-0 Tech lead.
The patience of the Belmont bats showed in the sixth inning, drawing three walks as part of a six-run frame. It appeared to pay off again in the seventh as four more free passes gave the visitors a chance at taking a lead. They had to settle for a single run on a sacrifice fly, as Grant Phillips got out of the inning without further damage.
Belmont worked a quick two outs in the bottom of the eighth with a runner on second for the Golden Eagles, but lightning in the area, followed by a healthy amount of rain, brought on the nearly three-hour delay. Coming back into play, Tech picked up a clutch, insurance run off the bat of Bryant. He ripped a single to center field to make it a 9-7 contest.
Rookie southpaw Jackson Berry took over for Phillips after the lengthy pause in the action, dominating a trio of lefty batters for the Bruins. The youngster struck out a pair and forced a weak pop-up to record his first collegiate save. Fisher earned his fourth win of the year, completing five and two-thirds frames allowing four earned runs with five strikeouts.
The series between the two ball clubs will wrap up Sunday with a doubleheader beginning at noon CT. The second contest is set to follow at approximately 3:30 p.m. Tech and Belmont will also meet one more time on Tuesday, with a midweek tilt in Nashville on the docket.
File photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information