By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Another late comeback bid just wasn’t in the cards for the Tennessee Tech baseball team Tuesday evening, as the Golden Eagles fell to in-state rival Middle Tennessee, 8-4, at Quillen Field and Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex .
The Blue Raiders got on the scoreboard early and leaned on their starting pitcher for much of the contest, a great recipe on the night with the performance of James Sells. The Middle Tennessee rookie held the potent Tech lineup hitless through five and one-third frames, surrendering his only knock of the night on a bloop single from center fielder Austin Turner with one out in the sixth.
For the night, he lasted six and one-third innings, striking out eight batters and allowing just the one hit and two walks, both coming in the seventh frame. It proved plenty through his outing, as the Blue Raiders scored in the first, second, and third to build an early, 7-0 lead.
Southpaw Brock Smith took over the Golden Eagles on the hill in the fourth frame and cruised for the home squad, holding the Blue Raiders to just one hit and two walks over the next three innings. He also struck out four batteries without allowing a run.
Right-hander Travis Odom relieved Smith for the seventh, tossing his own scoreless frame with a punch-out and just one hit allowed. Caleb Pearson covered the final two innings for Tech, allowing one, unearned run on one hit while fanning two.
The Golden Eagles finally broke through on the scoreboard in the eighth inning, with second baseman Noah Hattier working a five-pitch, lead-off walk. Turner followed with a seven-pitch free pass of his own prompting Middle Tennessee’s second pitching change of the night.
The move appeared to pay off initially, as the newly inserted reliever needed just three pitches to retire the next two Tech hitters. But then Jason Hinchman happened. The Golden Eagle left fielder pounced on the first pitch he saw, a breaking ball over the plate, and immediately deposited it over the batter’s eye in center field for a three-run home run.
It marked the senior slugger’s 11th round-tripper of the year and 55th of his career. He now sits just two dingers away from passing Austin Peay’s Parker Phillips for third on the Ohio Valley Conference’s all-time career home run charts.
The Cookeville crew tried to complete its comeback bid in the ninth, with catcher Hayden Gilliland leading things off with a double to left-center field. First baseman John Dyer followed with an RBI single up the middle, making it an 8-4 game.
After another change on the hill for Middle Tennessee and a quick out, Luke Jones stepped into the box as a pinch-hitter and singled through the right side on an 0-2 count. Turner followed by smashing a line drive to left-center field, but the left fielder was right there to handle it for the second out. The comeback bid ended one battery later with a strikeout.
The Golden Eagles will wrap up their eight-game homestand while hosting Morehead State this weekend to open OVC play. Tech will host the Eagles Friday evening at 6:00 pm CT with a second contest slated for 2:00 pm on Saturday. The series will close on Sunday with a 1:00 pm tilt. All three games are scheduled to be streamed on ESPN+ with Dylan Vazzano on the call.
Photo by Jim Dillon