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Respect Continues To Grow For Tennessee Tech

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Alex Junior

AUSTIN, Texas—Tennessee Tech this season has reached higher heights than ever before. The Golden Eagles are the first team in Ohio Valley Conference history to reach super regionals. They are the first OVC team to have won more than 50 games. They entered the Top 25 for the first time in program history and their 28-game winning streak is the longest in the country this season.

The Golden Eagles on Saturday moved even closer to reaching new heights. Tennessee Tech defeated Texas, 5-4, in Game 1 of the Austin Super Regional and is now one win away from reaching the College World Series.

Relief ace Ethan Roberts, who held the Longhorns to one run in four innings and earned his 15th save of the year, said the Golden Eagles are close to getting as much respect as they feel they deserve.

“It’s getting there,” Roberts said. “We come from Cookeville, Tenn., we’re Tennessee Tech and they finally figured that out.”

If anyone was still unsure about how seriously to take Tennessee Tech (53-10) after its phenomenal regular season and doubleheader sweep of Mississippi, the No. 4 national seed, on Monday to win the Oxford Regional, Saturday should have cleared it up. The Golden Eagles stand out most for their impressive power numbers—they lead the country with 128 home runs—but Saturday showed they are more than just mashers. They didn’t homer for just the 11th time all season and produced just a pair of doubles. The heart of their order combined to go 2-for-14 and they left 12 runners on base.

Still, Tennessee Tech was able to find a way. Its two doubles—from All-American first baseman Chase Chambers and shortstop David Garza—accounted for three runs and proved to be the difference in the game. And righthander Marcus Evey and Roberts combined to shut down Texas (40-21), the Big 12 Conference champion.

Evey held the Longhorns to three runs (two earned) in five innings in a gutty performance before handing the ball to Roberts. The junior righthander inherited a jam with runners on first and second and no outs but struck the next three batters out to end the inning.

“Those situations like that are ones I usually come into,” Roberts said. “First and second no outs, I just know I have to attack and just let them get themselves out. Luckily, I got a lot of swing and misses that inning.”

Roberts, who on Tuesday was drafted in the fourth round by the Orioles, throws a low-90s fastball and relies heavily on a cutter. The Longhorns never figured him out, managing just a hit and a walk over four innings. He retired six straight batters to end the game after walking red-hot Kody Clemens to start the eighth inning.

“He throws that hard cutter and it doesn’t have sink, it’s a little more side to side at 90-91. It’s hard to identify,” Texas coach David Pierce said. “It’s a pitch that you don’t see that often at that velocity.”

Having won Game 1, Tennessee Tech is well positioned going into Sunday. The Golden Eagles will turn to senior righthander Travis Moths, the OVC pitcher of the year who is 13-2, 3.86, with a trip to Omaha on the line.

Coach Matt Bragga doesn’t want his team to worry about the situation or what will be at stake at Disch-Falk Field.

“I don’t think there is a new mentality,” he said. “Tomorrow’s a brand new day. It’s new for Texas, it’s new for us. Tomorrow’s a new day. We’ll be ready to rock and roll tomorrow.”

That shouldn’t be a problem for Tennessee Tech. This group of Golden Eagles first arrived on the national scene last year when they won the OVC Tournament and then upset Florida State in Game 1 of the Tallahassee Regional. They lost their next two games, ending their season, but picked up valuable confidence and experience along the way.

With the core of that team returning this year, Tennessee Tech carried its momentum into 2018 and has just kept winning all season. Center fielder Alex Junior said the Golden Eagles’ confidence has helped it all year.

“We don’t feel pressure when we’re down, we know that we can come right back and have a big inning of our own,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep together and don’t stray away from what we’ve done this whole entire year.”

If Tennessee Tech does that Sunday in Austin, it may well add another first to this season’s list. At the very least, some more people around the country will learn the Golden Eagles are for real.

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