Home runs and winning — lots of it: The recipe for Tennessee Tech’s success

Alex Briseño

On the northern side of Cookeville, Tennessee, population 32,622, lies Tennessee Tech University. For most fans around the Austin area, Tennessee Tech is simply Texas’ opponent in the super regional and the only team standing in the way of a trip to the College World Series.

But this team knows how to win. It does a lot of winning, in fact; they just don’t get much recognition for it. As a benefit of playing in a mid-major conference, the Golden Eagles have been afforded the opportunity to fly under the radar. Tennessee Tech has racked up 52 wins and only 10 losses, and the Golden Eagles are the first squad from the Ohio Valley Conference to earn a berth to an NCAA super regional.

But their 52 wins aren’t what caught the attention of Longhorn fans. Nor was it their 28-game win streak earlier in the season. Simply put, Texas fans didn’t pay much attention to this team until last weekend.

When they left Disch-Falk Field after watching the Longhorns win the Austin regional, most fans thought that would be the last game in Austin this year.

All No. 4 Ole Miss had to do was beat Tennessee Tech once in two games, and the Longhorns would have to travel to Oxford, Mississippi, for a super regional with the Rebels. Then the Golden Eagles upset Ole Miss –– twice, in back-to-back games on the same day — to eliminate one of the top teams in the nation.

“You know what’s funny,” Tennessee Tech head coach Matt Bragga said. “Last Monday, I guess, before we played what ended up being a double-header to win the championship in Oxford against Ole Miss, I was thinking about Austin, Texas, actually. And how I really thought, I bet there’s a whole lot of fans in Austin rooting for us today so they can host the super regionals.”

Texas fans showed an overwhelming amount of support for the Golden Eagles last Monday as Tennessee Tech finished off a 3-2 victory over Ole Miss, relocating the super regional from Oxford to Austin. Bragga was asked if the Longhorns sent them flowers after granting Texas the opportunity to host a super regional for the first time since 2014.

“I was looking for it,” Bragga said. “No, it never came. Even at the hotel when I got here, I thought there would be a big basket, but no, it never came.”

Tennessee Tech likely won’t need any gifts this weekend. They haven’t needed any all season. The team leads the country in home runs (134), team batting average (.338) and runs per game (10.2). The Golden Eagles also lead the nation in slugging percentage (.589), on base percentage (.434) and hits (769). To put their offensive power into perspective, their 134 home runs are 36 more than the squad in second place.

And this is all coming from a team made up of players who, for the most part, were not recruited by Power Five schools.

“We’re able to find young men that are what we need — and that’s blue-collar, hard work, (to) get after it, (to) play with a chip on your shoulder, (to) have some talent and (to) go do your job,” Bragga said.

Tennessee Tech is making its first appearance in a super regional, but success isn’t a rarity for this team. Taking down Ole Miss on the road will likely be toward the top of their accomplishments in recent history, but this team has been good for more than a decade.

“This is a program that, since 2007, out of the nine Division I schools in the state of Tennessee, we have the second-most wins, second-best winning percentage, (and) we’ve won six Ohio Valley Conference titles in the last 10 years,” Bragga said. “What I would say about this teams is, 'Let's not kid ourselves, this is a special year and a special season, as good as some of the ones in the past.' What these guys have accomplished is phenomenal.”

Game one in the best-of-three series between Texas (40-20) and Tennessee Tech (52-10) is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Disch-Falk Field with a trip to the College World Series on the line.