By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A stellar showing on the mound and senior-led effort with the bats propelled the Tennessee Tech baseball team (20-25, 13-15) to 9-4 victory over Ohio Valley Conference rival SIUE (23-25, 13-15) Thursday evening at Quillen Field and Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex.
It seemed only fitting that a pair of seniors would lead the offensive charge on Senior Night for the Golden Eagles, with designated hitter Gavin Johns and left fielder Cody Littlejohn combining for five of their team's 15 hits and three of its seven RBI.
With the offense providing plenty of support, returning freshman starter Ty Fisher provided one of the most impressive outings of his young career, tossing his first career complete game. The southpaw allowed four runs, including just three earned, on eight hits while striking out seven and issuing zero walks.
In picking up his team-high sixth win of the season, Fisher also slung the first complete game by a Tech pitcher since current senior Alex Hursey delivered one of the most clutch performances on the hill in program history during the team's 2018 NCAA Oxford Regional Championship run. Hursey completed nine innings in a 2-1 victory, advancing Tech past Missouri State in an elimination game and setting the purple and gold up with two eventual match-ups with Ole Miss.
SIUE seemed to have figured things out on the offensive end early, plating a pair and collecting three of its eight hits on the night in the top of the first inning.
Tech was quick to respond and back its rookie southpaw, jumping on top of the scoreboard with a trio of runs in the bottom half. After a one-out single from second baseman Brett Roberts, first baseman Golston Gillespie crushed a two-run moon shot to left-center field to tie things up. It marked his 11th round-tripper of the year, tying for the team lead with Littlejohn.
Junior slugger Jason Hinchman made it back-to-back jacks for the purple and gold, smashing his own long ball down the left-field line. His 10th home run of the season also represented the 43rd of his career.
The Cougars tried to back control in the fourth, taking the lead once again with a two-run home run to right-center field. Tech's seniors made sure to have their young teammate's back though, helping deliver the game-changing rally in the fifth.
Taking advantage of multiple defensive miscues by SIUE in the frame, the Golden Eagles tied the game after back-to-back errors allowed right fielder Theo Bryant IV to reach safely and then score on a single to third base from shortstop Ed Johnson.
Roberts followed with a chopping double over the third baseman's head, bringing in Johnson for a 5-4 Tech lead. The returning freshman advanced to third on the same play after a third Cougar mistake in the field.
After a pair of outs seemed to right the ship for the visitors, Littlejohn kept the inning alive for his squad, peppering a single through the pitcher's legs and into center field for an RBI and 6-4 Tech advantage. Johns continued the senior surge, smashing a two-run jack over the batter's eye in center fielder, a Herculean shot that seemed to clinch the momentum for the Golden Eagle dugout from that point onward.
For good measure, the two seniors each turned in singles to lead off the seventh inning, setting up the Golden Eagles with their final run of the game for the 9-4 lead. While SIUE turned a double play, Littlejohn came home to score on the play.
With his team firmly in front, Fisher zoned in even further, scattering two hits over the final three innings while striking out four Cougar batters.
Both Johns and Roberts tallied three knocks each on the night while Gillespie, Littlejohn and third baseman Gabe Lacy also produced multi-hit efforts. Eight of Tech's nine batters gathered at least one hit on the night while seven scored at least one run.
Honored as part of Senior Night festivities prior to the contest on Thursday evening were left-handed pitcher Nic Dye, left-handed pitcher Alex Hursey, infielder Gavin Johns, right-handed pitcher Mark Leonard, outfielder Cody Littlejohn, infielder Nathan McMeans, right-handed pitcher Jacob Parham, right-handed pitcher Grant Phillips, and former right-handed hurler and current student assistant coach Devin Lancaster. Senior managers Dylan Reynolds and Peyton Smith also were honored, tossing out ceremonial first pitches prior to the start of the game.
The two sides will square off in a doubleheader on Friday, each competing in its final two games of the 2021 campaign. First pitch is slated for 1:00 p.m. CT for game one while the second contest is expected to start at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Photos by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information