By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was a tough day at the diamond for the Tennessee Tech baseball team Sunday, as the Golden Eagles (13-19, 7-11) saw not one, but two late comeback attempts against Ohio Valley Conference and in-state rival Belmont (19-18, 11-10) come up just short at Quillen Field and Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.
Game one on the day was a roller-coaster affair from start to finish, with the Bruins holding on for a 9-7 victory. The second contest of the day featured a huge, ninth-inning rally by the purple and gold, but the visitors squeaked by with the 9-8 win.
In the first contest, it was the Golden Eagles moving in front in the second inning, with third baseman Gabe Lacy delivering early with a two-run single to right-center field. On top of playing stellar defense at the hot corner all day, Lacy produced a team-high four hits between the two contests.
Belmont answered immediately in the third, with a three-run home run to center field by John Behrends. It didn't take long for a Tech response, with designated hitter Gavin Johns ripping a two-run double down the left-field line in the bottom half of the frame to push Tech back on top, 4-3.
Another Bruin run in the fifth tied the game, but the Golden Eagles pushed right back, as catcher Will Long slapped a beautiful, opposite-field single to right field for an RBI to make it a 5-4 lead. Again Belmont fought back, with Behrends turning in his second round-tripper of the ball game down the right-field line to give his team a 6-5 advantage.
For the second time in the contest Long came up clutch with an RBI single, this time to the shortstop. While the Bruin infielder was able to make a diving stop, he had no throw available by the time he regrouped, allowing Tech to tie the game back at 6-6.
In the top of the ninth, a tough call gave the Bruins the lead again as southpaw Jackson Berry was called for a balk with the bases loaded and one out in the inning. A double later in the inning plated two more Belmont baserunners, making it a 9-6 lead for the road team.
The purple and gold made things very interesting in its final chance of the contest, loading the bases with two outs. A wild pitch allowed pinch-runner Tynan Shahidi to score and make it a 9-7 ball game while an errant offering plucked shortstop Ed Johnson to load the bases back up. Belmont forced a fly out to left field to end the contest.
Johns, Long and Lacy each finished with two RBI in the game while nine different Tech batters turned in at least one hit. Center fielder Jason Hinchman and first baseman Golston Gillespie each scored two runs for the home team.
In game two, an early 1-0 Tech lead off the effort of an RBI single from catcher Hayden Gilliland quickly flipped in favor of the Bruins with a four-run third inning for the squad from Nashville. Gillespie singled in a run to right field in the bottom half, but Belmont slowly took control and kept it that way until the ninth.
Belmont scored once in the fourth, three more times in the seventh and, as it would turn out, produced the game-winning run in the ninth. The Bruins looked well on their way to victory heading into the bottom of the inning with a 9-2 lead, but Tech gave its fans something to believe in.
Lacy led off the frame with a single to center field and was followed by a hit-by-pitch to Shahidi. Right fielder Theo Bryant IV drew a walk on four pitches to load the bases and Johnson followed by drawing a seven-pitch, RBI free pass of his own.
Second baseman gave the Golden Eagles a shot of adrenaline with his at-bat, lacing a bases-clearing double down the right-field line on a 1-2 offering, driving in a trio of runs to cut the deficit to 9-6.
A Belmont pitching change made no difference, as Hinchman collected a four-pitch walk to force another switch on the mound. After Hinchman stole second, Gillespie drove in Roberts with a ground ball to second base, making it a 9-7 tilt with a single out.
With a runner on third, Johns took his turn and delivered with a sacrifice fly ball to right field with a 1-2 count. The scoreboard now read 9-8 in favor of Belmont. It proved to be the final, as the Bruins racked up a strikeout to finish things off and take the series from the Golden Eagles.
Lacy led the offensive effort for Tech with a 3-for-4 showing while Roberts posted a team-high three RBI. Reliever Connor Adams turned in three strong innings of relief, allowing just one run on one hit while striking out five batters.
The two in-state rivals will meet for a fifth and final time during the 2021 regular season on Tuesday, squaring off in Nashville in a 5:00 p.m. CT match-up with no OVC implications.
File photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information