By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Clutch was the theme of the weekend for the Tennessee Tech baseball team, as the Golden Eagles (18-21, 11-13) capped off a doubleheader and series sweep of Morehead State (23-19, 12-9) with an 8-7, walk-off win Saturday evening at Quillen Field and Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.
The purple and gold won three-straight, one-run contests for its first Ohio Valley Conference sweep of the year, also defeating the visiting Eagles 4-3 in game one of the day and 3-2 in Friday's contest. It was the third and final game of the series that provided the most excitement, with the Golden Eagles rallying in the ninth thanks to an RBI single from senior Gavin Johns.
Tech seemed destined for victory early, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first. Second baseman Brett Roberts started the scoring with an RBI single down the right-field line, sending left fielder Cody Littlejohn to third. Later in the frame, Roberts took off for second base only to stop short and intentionally get in a run down to distract the defense. Littlejohn paused and then sprinted for the plate.
The home squad doubled down in the second, with center fielder Jason Hinchman sparking the frame with a leadoff laser that cleared the fence in right-center field. His seventh round-tripper of the year made him just the fifth player in program history to record 40 home runs in their career.
Later in the inning, shortstop Ed Johnson made it a 4-0 Tech lead with an RBI ground out to shortstop. Morehead State made a dent in the advantage in the fourth, scoring three times with a two-run dinger to left field as the highlight.
Littlejohn gave his squad some more breathing room in the fifth, scoring the exact same way as the first after tripling to right-center field. This time, first baseman Golston Gillespie provided the distraction, taking off for second base to draw the throw and force a run down. Littlejohn scored again as the Eagles chased down Gillespie, reaching the plate before the tag could be applied for the final out of the inning.
Right fielder Theo Bryant IV delivered a pair of huge plays in the sixth, ending the top half of the frame by catching a fly ball and throwing a seed to catcher Hayden Gilliland to nab Morehead's Ryley Preece at the plate for a double play. He then slapped a two-out, RBI-single to left-center field in the bottom half, making it a 6-3 contest.
Morehead State rallied in the eighth, gathering a game-tying, three-run home run from Jackson Feltner. The visitors used their new-found momentum to produce the go-ahead run in the ninth, with a pair of doubles doing the damage.
Without hesitation, the Golden Eagles provided a response. Bryant continued his great game with a leadoff double to right field. Johnson's attempt at a sacrifice bunt fell out of reach of the pitcher, allowing the sophomore to reach safely with a base hit. Littlejohn laid down his own sacrifice bunt, but the Morehead second baseman dropped the throw from the first baseman to allow Tech to load the bases with no outs.
Roberts brought the tying run home and moved the winning run to third base with a ground ball to first, but the Eagles turned a double play to move just one out away from forcing extras. After an intentional walk to Gillespie, Tech head coach Steve Smith opted to insert Gavin Johns as a pinch hitter.
After falling behind in the count 0-2, the Temecula, Calif. native turned in the biggest swing of his career, ripping a single up the middle and past the outstretched glove of Morehead's shortstop. Johns was mobbed by his teammates as Tech clinched its first series sweep of the Eagles since 2013.
Littlejohn finished the contest 3-for-3 with two runs while Johnson and Bryant each registered a pair of hits. Southpaw Jackson Berry claimed his fourth win of the year, tossing one-and-one-third innings out the bullpen.
It took a different rally in the first contest, but the Golden Eagles eked out a 4-3 victory thanks to a spectacular performance on the hill from junior Brock Myers. The right-handed hurler finished the final four-and-two-thirds frames of the contest, allowing one hit, one run and pair of walks while fanning three and picking up his second win of the year.
The visitors from Morehead scored runs in the second and third innings for an early, 2-0 advantage before Tech took the lead for good. In the fourth, Littlejohn led things off by clobbering his team-high 11th blast of the season to left field to cut the deficit in half.
Johnson turned it into a 3-2 Tech lead in the fifth, smashing his fifth bomb of the year, a two-run shot, to left field. The Golden Eagles added a crucial insurance run in the seventh, with third baseman Gabe Lacy scoring on a Morehead State error in left field.
Next up for Tech is a rematch with No. 5 Tennessee in Knoxville on Tuesday, May 11. First pitch is slated for 5:30 p.m. CT at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Photo by Rob Schabert