By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
MARTIN, Tenn. – It was a heart-wrenching finish to a back-and-forth battle for the Tennessee Tech baseball team Friday evening, as in-state and Ohio Valley Conference rival UT Martin (16-26, 8-14) claimed a 9-8, walk-off victory over the Golden Eagles (18-23, 11-14) in the series opener at Skyhawk Field.
Trailing 3-1 and held to just three hits heading into the sixth inning, Tech took its turn jumping onto the top of the scoreboard, literally. After first baseman Golston Gillespie brought his squad to within a run with an RBI double down the third-base line, another Golden Eagle slugger delivered some fireworks.
Center fielder Jason Hinchman took his turn at the dish, smashing a hanging breaking ball over the scoreboard in left field for a two-run home run to give the purple and gold its first lead of the night. It marked his eighth round-tripper of the year and the 41st of his career.
The Skyhawks were quick to produce their own response, using a pair of RBI singles and a clutch, two-out, three-run dinger to leap back out front 8-4. The blow could have easily deflated the Tech dugout, but the Cookeville crew was hardly done.
After the two sides traded a pair of zeroes in the seventh, the Golden Eagles went to work again in the eighth. Second baseman Brett Roberts made the first dent in the deficit, blasting a two-run jack to left-center field, his fifth of the year.
Gillespie drew a walk and Hinchman squeezed a double down the third-base line to put a pair in scoring position and force a Skyhawk pitching change. Senior Gavin Johns made it a one-run affair with a sacrifice fly ball to right field while advancing Hinchman to third.
Freshman catcher Hayden Gilliland also shot a fly ball to the outfield, this one a bit shallower and to center field. Hinchman took off as soon as the ball touched the center fielder's glove and made a skillful slide into home plate, sneaking under the tag of the UT Martin catcher to tie the game at 8-8.
The contest seemed destined for extra innings as southpaw Jackson Berry struck out the first batter of the ninth on four pitches and following it up by forcing a pop-up to shortstop. UT Martin's Will LaFollette was the hero for his squad, sneaking a 1-1 offering inside the right-field foul pole for a walk-off home run and 9-8 victory of the home team.
Roberts and Hinchman each tallied a pair of hits, runs scored and RBI to lead the Golden Eagles offensively on the night.
The series will conclude on Saturday, with doubleheader action slated to start at 1:00 p.m. CT with the second contest of the day set for an approximate 4:30 p.m. first pitch.
File photo by Rob Schabert