For all the success the Tennessee Tech University baseball team has experienced this season — from shattering program and conference wins records to leading the nation in almost every major offensive category — not much of it has fazed Anthony Carrera.
The reason for that is simple.
“Everybody one through nine in the lineup, all the starters are good, the pitchers are good and the guys off the bench are good,” said Carrera, a 2016 Gainesville High graduate.
“The crazy thing is that’s what the team is. Guys who come off the bench are doing the same thing as the starters, and not many teams have that same amount of talent all throughout their roster.”
Carrera himself is perhaps the best example of that.
The sophomore outfielder has appeared in 33 games, the most of any non-everyday player, for the No. 22 Golden Eagles on their way to the NCAA Tournament. Carrera’s .345 batting average is fourth-best among Tennessee Tech players with more than 17 at-bats, and he has four home runs with 15 RBIs to his credit as a reserve.
His contributions helped the Golden Eagles lead the nation in wins and become the first-ever Ohio Valley Conference squad to earn an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, which they will open against Missouri State at 3 p.m. Friday in the Oxford, Mississippi regional.
Mark that down as another accolade for mid-major Tennessee Tech (48-9) that Carrera isn’t all that surprised by.
“We deserved it, earned it, worked hard for it,” he said. “I’m not in shock about it at all.”
What did catch Carrera off guard, though, was the Golden Eagles’ 28-game winning streak from mid-March to late-April that went down as the nation’s longest this season and fell just six games short of tying to the Division I record.
He said he and several others teammates didn’t realize just how long the surge was until Tennessee Tech’s social media department started publicizing it. Even after feeling pressure from outside the program to keep the streak going, the team’s focus was elsewhere.
“We were just thinking about playing the game and having fun,” Carrera said “ … When we come out there and are playing good baseball, relaxed and having fun, that’s when things turn out to be good. We joke at practice, but we get to work when it’s time. We know what it takes. We’ve been in this situation before and want to get the job done. We want to finish.”
Indeed, the Golden Eagles are trying to make even more noise than they did in last year’s Tallahassee, Florida regional. After opening with an upset of host Florida State as a No. 4 seed, Tennessee Tech was eliminated by a pair of 5-3 losses to Auburn and the Seminoles.
Now Carrera and company have a more favorable path to a super regional, which the program has never reached, despite falling to Morehead State in the OVC Tournament title game last week.
The Golden Eagles’ earned the No. 2 seed in the double-elimination regional hosted by No. 4 national seed and Southeastern Conference Tournament champion Ole Miss, which will face St. Louis at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Carrera believes Tennessee Tech is prepared for what should be a large and raucous crowd in Oxford, which he said can have both positive and negative effects on players.
“Sometimes they’ll put pressure on you, and you don’t really want to have that,” the former Red Elephant said. “But on the good side, you have fun because you know the fans are watching. You just have to stay locked in because everybody is tuned in.”
That’s especially true considering what the Golden Eagles did in last year’s tournament.
It’s unlikely that they’ll sneak up on anyone this time around, not after leading the nation in batting average (.342), home runs (128) and runs per game (10.5). Tennessee Tech managed that plus a seven-win increase from a year ago despite losing several position players and pitchers.
Carrera’s personal improvement helped ease the attrition.
Thanks to diligent offseason work on tracking inside pitches, he said he found a greater “understanding” of his swing to boost his .194 freshman batting average.
It helped Carrera become a more reliable reserve who even made a few starts in the outfield as a sophomore. But he’s even more aware of his role as the Golden Eagles attempt to follow up their incredible regular season with an equally historic tournament run.
“I’m here to support my teammates, then come in and play outfield and get a hit when I need to,” the Gainesville native said. “I like to cheer on my team. I know my teammates can do it and pull through. But I’m ready at all times for when my name gets called because there aren’t many chances that I get.”