Off the Wall With Tennessee Tech's Alex Junior
Tennessee Tech last year went 41-21, won the Ohio Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles to return to regionals for the first time since 2009. The Golden Eagles are flying high again this season, as they have started 22-5.
Tennessee Tech is 11-1 in OVC play and after four weekends already has a three-game lead in the conference standings. It will try to further distance itself from the pack this weekend when it welcomes third-place Jacksonville State, one of its primary challengers in the league, to Bush Stadium.
Under coach Matt Bragga, Tennessee Tech has thrived at the plate. The Golden Eagles lead the nation in scoring (11.3 runs per game), hitting (.354), on-base percentage (.447) and slugging (.625). Even in the offensive friendly environment of the OVC, the Golden Eagles’ performance at the plate is on another level. They have scored more than 100 more runs than any other OVC team and have the best slugging percentage in the conference by nearly .180 poiints.
Seven Golden Eagles regulars are hitting better than .320, including center fielder Alex Junior. The redshirt junior is hitting .353/.479/.569 with four home runs. Before this weekend’s big series, Baseball America caught up with Junior to talk about Tennessee Tech’s strong start, last year’s upset in regionals and walkup music.
You guys have been rolling so far this season. What’s been the key for this team?
“Working our plans at the plate as a whole unit, not just one person, but continue to try to pass it down to the next guy. Execute our plan on offense, which is obviously to score, but just make it tough on pitchers, try to work their pitch counts and maybe if they start to get in a rhythm to break that rhythm and keep doing what we usually do – hit the ball hard, score and try to wear down the pitchers and get to the pen as early as possible. That’s usually how we’ve always been since I’ve been here. I feel like this year we’ve done it very well from the very beginning of the season to where we are now. We’ve just got to keep that going.”
You’re off to a strong start yourself. How are you feeling at the plate?
“I feel pretty confident. My one true goal is just to get on because I know I have the big donkeys behind me to get me in, whether I’m at first or second. I feel like they have a chance to get me in no matter where I am. It sort of takes off the pressure with me. Sometimes there’s runners in scoring position that I’ve got to get in, but for the most part I’m just trying to get on so those guys can hit me around. I know they can and I know they will.”
Matt Bragga has a strong reputation as a hitting coach. How does he help you guys improve at the plate?
“He doesn’t try to make everyone robots. He lets you stand how you want. He just teaches a few things that every hitter will go through. From my time starting out at Tech, I was sort of a raw hitter, I had a lot to improve. But looking back from there and just trying to execute these plans, I’ve done a lot better every single year. Really just trying to focus on what I’m trying to get, what I want to hit and foul off or just stay off everything that’s not what I want. I think eh develops in us a solid understanding of the zone and allows you to sort of flow within what you want. He’ll get on you if you’re not flowing with what you want or what you say you do, but for the most part he allows you to go up there with a plan so you can attack it no matter who’s throwing on the mound.”
You guys were hot at the end of last season and had a big upset of Florida State in regionals. Has that momentum carried into this season or have you put last year away?
“You can always roll off stuff from last season because it was a big success and that’s what we’re trying to go back to. We look at the sort of things that we did last year and try to execute them. We’re trying to be our own identity as a team. Last year’s team was really good and I feel like we’re at that same level. We’re just trying to continue to play good baseball and be a good hitting team. We have a lot of guys coming back from last year too so I mean they have the experience, they know what it was like. We’re still rolling off that a little bit, but for the most part we’re just continuing to do what we set out to do and go out and win another championship this year.”
Who is the toughest pitcher you’ve faced in your career?
“Casey Mize from Auburn was good. He had a splitter that I never saw. I was swinging at everything he threw, I felt like. He’s probably the best, but I’ve also got to give some credit to Joey Lucchesi from Southeast Missouri State. He made his debut in the bigs (last week) and we were watching that. We went back to the box score and we hit him pretty well as a team, I got a bunt hit off of him after he walked me my first at bat, but you still look at it and he still had 10 strikeouts. And you’re like, ‘I thought we did pretty well against him and he still got 10 Ks.’ He’s just a good pitcher in general.”
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What is your walkup song and why did you pick it?
“I went with ‘Melodies’ by King Chav. It’s sort of a Christian gospel song, Last year I did a Kirk Franklin song, which is sort of the same boat. But it took me a long time to figure this out. I was looking for about three months trying to figure out a song I could sort of vibe to at the plate. Get me relaxed when I get up to the plate and execute what I normally do and have some fun while I’m listening to it and calm me down.”
What is your favorite part of playing at Tennessee Tech?
“Being around the guys in any situation. Road trips are usually interesting. You’ve got a lot of characters on the team. Being able to get out here and play. You think about it from high school, it was a good time playing and you finally get a scholarship offer to play at a school like this or anywhere, once you start to look back on it – I’m graduating this semester, I have another year left but thinking about the four years it’s crazy all the people you’ve met and all the personalities you’ve dealt with. It’s a really cool thing to look back on. It’s just a really big blessing, I guess you could say, to play with all these people and play against people that you look back and you’re like, ‘Oh they’re in the pros, holy cow.” I think it’s a great opportunity.”
What are your goals for the rest of the season?
“For me, personally, just to keep scoring, put up runs for my team and be solid defensively. Go out and catch the ball in center, anything that’s hit at me. As a team, we’ve got to keep going, keep doing what we normally do – hit well, pitch well and play defense. I know we will. We just have to keep playing how we are and we’ll do just fine.”