Rival Jacksonville State visits as Tech baseball looks to start strong in OVC

With 22 games under their belt this season, the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech will open up conference play this weekend hosting a huge Ohio Valley Conference rival in the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, beginning with Saturday’s double-header event starting at 1 p.m.Tech’s 2010 season ended at the hands of the Gamecocks in the OVC Tournament in Jackson, Tenn., when JSU defeated the Golden Eagles twice in the double elimination tournament by scores of 9-7 and 10-8 to earn the post-season championship title and the chance to continue their season in the regional tournament.

This year, Tech will be looking to avenge the post-season losses from last year and stretch their lead on the 19-16 lifetime series over the Gamecocks.

The Golden Eagles are still led at the plate by freshman Zach Stephens with a .363 average and a slugging percentage of more than .600. Stephens has notched 33 hits on the season, including five long balls and eight doubles for 27 RBI to lead the team in all three categories. Tech has three other members of the lineup batting over .300 in sophomore standouts Evan Frazier (.347) and Zephan Guyear (.310) and senior returnee Casanova Donaldson (.311).

Standing in their way, however, will be a JSU pitching staff consisting of three rightys-a freshman newcomer to the weekend rotation in Bradley Raulston and two returning starters in Aaron Elias and Jordan Beistline. Raulston (2-0, 3.21 ERA) has pitched 14 innings for the Gamecocks in five total appearances and will take the hill first in game one, having allowed six runs on 14 hits and striking out seven on the year.

A junior out of Covina, California, Elias maintains a 2.57 ERA in 35 innings pitched, the most of the Gamecock bullpen thus far this season. He has surrendered 15 runs on 27 hits and leads the team in strikeouts with 28. In five games started, six appearances in all, Elias has amassed a 3-1 record on the mound.

Beistline will cap off the weekend for JSU with his perfect 3-0 record and 1.42 ERA in 25.1 innings of work. He has accumulated 11 Ks so far this season and allowed just four earned runs on 22 hits.

Jacksonville State’s line-up consists of seven hitters sitting at .300 or above, six of which return from last season’s roster. Junior Ben Waldrip leads the Gamecocks with a .413 in 75 at-bats, having logged 31 hits and 17 RBI. Sam Eberle, another junior out of Chattanooga, has a .355 average and leads the team in at-bats with 107 and RBI with 29 on 38 hits.

Tech will turn to regular weekend starter Matt Shepherd in game two of the series, while lefty Chad Oberacker will handle game three for the Golden Eagles. Shepherd leads Tech in innings pitched with 36.1 and has a 2-3 record having allowed 33 hits on the season and striking out 34.

Oberacker, who recently broke Tech’s school record for all-time career hits, has been contributing regularly on the mound this season and currently maintains a 3.29 ERA. He has made three starts this season and six appearances for a total of 27.1 innings pitched. He’s given up 14 runs on 26 hits and has recorded 27 Ks on the season.

The starter for game one for Tech has yet to be determined.

The Golden Eagle baseball program will host Greek Day on Saturday and welcome Tech Hall-of-Famer Mark Mayberry to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game. Student organizations are encouraged to come out and show their Tech pride, with a $250 prize on the line for the largest organization present.

Tech will be capping off the weekend with Sunday’s 1 p.m. finale, and the program will be hosting Faith Day, which will award the first 300 fans present with church bulletins a free hot dog from the TTU concession stand.

For more information about Tech baseball, please visit TTUSports.com.