There have only been two meetings between the Golden Eagles and South Alabama before this weekend, as the two squads split a two-game set back in 2010 in Mobile. Tech won a barn-burner in the second contest, edging the Jaguars in a 14-13 thriller on Mar. 10, 2010.
With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning Ryan Hopkins came in to pitch for the Golden Eagles and try to preserve a slim two-run lead. And he did just that, forcing back-to-back ground balls to earn the save and give the Tennessee Tech baseball team a 14-13 win over South Alabama Wednesday afternoon.
The Golden Eagles tallied 14 runs on 20 hits and it proved to be just enough, as Tech escaped with the road win over the Jaguars to earn a split in the two-game series.
Seth Edwards went 4-for-6 at the plate, Chad Hayes and Chad Oberacker each went 3-for-5, and A.J. Kirby-Jones, Casanova Donaldson, Zephan Guyear and Evan Frazier each had two hits, as Tech reached the 20 hit mark for the second time in the young season. The Golden Eagles improve to 5-7 on the season, and snap a five-game losing streak. USA falls to 9-6 on the year.
The Golden Eagles came out of the gates strong, rallying for four runs in the first inning and three in the second to take a 7-1 lead into the third inning. But the Jaguars began chip away, and heading into the eighth inning USA had cut Tech’s lead to just 12-10. Both teams scored a run in the eighth inning, and Tech added another in the ninth to go ahead 14-11. USA led off the bottom of the ninth with a pair of walks and single to load the bases with no outs. After a strikeout and another walk, Hopkins entered the game and was able to get the save.
The Golden Eagles scored in every inning except for the fourth, while USA scored a run in seven of the nine innings in the offensive battle. Nine different Golden Eagle batters had at least one hit in the game.
Chason Choate got the start on the mound for the Golden Eagles, and allowed six runs on seven hits in 4.1 innings of work while walking two and striking out two. Stephen Pryor got the win for the Golden Eagles after pitching two-thirds of an inning without allowing a hit or a run and striking out two batters.
A.J. Kirby-Jones hit his team-leading fourth home run of the season, which puts him alone in fourth place on Tech’s all-time career home run list with 29 for his career. Two of Edwards’ four hits were doubles, and Oberacker added a double as well for the Golden Eagles offensively. Tate McMillan drew three walks in the game.
Both teams have been mighty busy since then. In fact, last year marked great seasons for both squads. South Alabama won 40+ games for the 19th time in team history, making the Starkville Regional and taking on eventual College World Series runnerup Mississippi State. The Jaguars finished the year 43-20 while winning a share of the Sun Belt Conference regular season championship.
The Golden Eagles set a program record with 40 wins while also breaking the Ohio Valley Conference record for league wins with 24. Tech won the OVC regular season championship and boasted two All-Americans and eight all-conference players when the season ended.
Starting on the mound for the Golden Eagles on Friday will be JUCO transfer Chris Chism. The right-hander brings a competitive edge from St. Petersburg College and will look to give the Tech squad a great start to the 2014 season.
Pitching on Saturday is junior returnee David Hess. The righty dazzled Tech fans out of the bullpen last season, capping a 3.84 ERA and 77 strikeout season with the performance of a lifetime. Hess struck out 11 of the 14 batters he faced in 4.1 innings of relief work in the OVC championship clinching win over Belmont. He also finished the year with a 7-2 record.
Wrapping things up on Sunday will be another JUCO transfer in John Gora. The left hander recorded an impressive 4.27 K/walk ratio while at Lakeland Community College on his way to a 6-2 record in nine starts.