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Injured Strohschein still leads potent Tennessee Tech lineup

June 8, 2018
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In this May 23, 2018, photo, Tennessee Tech designated hitter Kevin Strohschein plays in an NCAA college baseball game in Cookeville, Tenn. Strohschein hasn't pitched or played the outfield since a March elbow injury that will require offseason surgery, but the two-time Ohio Valley Conference player of the year is still hitting as well as ever. Strohschein has helped give Tennessee Tech the nation's most potent lineup as the Golden Eagles head into an NCAA super regional this weekend at Texas. (Thomas Corhern, Tennessee Tech via AP)

Tennessee Tech’s Kevin Strohschein has somehow found a way to keep on hitting through an elbow injury that will require offseason surgery.

Strohschein, normally an outfielder, suffered the injury in March while pitching in a game against Lipscomb. Strohschein hasn’t pitched since and has been restricted to designated hitter duties for most of his junior season, yet he performed well enough at the plate to be named Ohio Valley Conference player of the year for the second time.

He’s a major reason why Tennessee Tech (52-10) carries the nation’s most potent lineup into an NCAA super regional beginning Saturday at Texas (40-20). Tennessee Tech is the first OVC team to reach a super regional and can earn a College World Series invitation by winning the best-of-three series with Texas.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Strohschein said. “You watch it on TV, and it’s always the big schools.”

Tennessee Tech has made it this far largely thanks to a roster that leads all Division I teams in virtually every major hitting category. The Golden Eagles average 10.2 runs and 2.2 homers per game. They’re batting .338 with a team on-base percentage of .434 and slugging percentage of .589.

“It’s not just hitting the long ball,” Texas coach David Pierce said. “They do a lot of the little things offensively. They are good with two strikes. They are patient. There’s a reason why they hit so many home runs. They work to get pitches. Then they can create offense with the short game.”

Strohschein has played a big role in that production. He’s batting .386 with a .441 on-base percentage and 18 homers and 67 RBIs in 62 games.

Those numbers would be impressive enough for a player at full strength. Strohschein has been playing hurt since injuring his right elbow March 6. The injury helps explain why Strohschein wasn’t one of the eight Tennessee Tech players drafted this week.

“It was tough to deal with, one of the tougher things I’ve had to really go through in my life honestly, but it is what it is,” Strohschein said of his injury. “I’ve just come to accept it.”

The elbow problem prevents Strohschein from pitching - or even throwing from the outfield. But it apparently hasn’t bothered his swing too much. His batting average actually has slightly increased since his injury.

His improved mental approach has made up for the physical limitations brought about by the injury.

After a stellar freshman season in which he was named the OVC player of the year, Strohschein struggled a bit as a sophomore. His batting average dropped from .393 in 2016 to .292 in 2017, while his on-base percentage dipped from .447 to .351.

“My sophomore year, I put all kinds of unneeded pressure on myself trying to outdo my freshman year and thinking about MLB and all that kind of stuff, instead of just going out there and playing,” Strohschein said. “I just got caught up in stats, I guess, is the big thing that happened to me.”

He entered this season with a different mindset. He avoided getting down on himself when things went wrong. Strohschein didn’t set statistical goals aside from vowing to improve his strikeout-walk ratio, something he has accomplished.

Although he changed his mental approach, Strohschein didn’t alter the work ethic that helped him become a Division I prospect in the first place. Tennessee Tech coach Matt Bragga marvels at the number of hours Strohschein spends in the batting cages.

“Let’s say you go home and come back to the office at 10 p.m. just some night on a random Wednesday or Tuesday,” Bragga said. “I hear the crack of the bat out in our ‘hack shack,’ you go out there and it’s not always just Kevin, but Kevin is a guy, that’s what he does. ... On a Tuesday night at 10 o’clock, it’s not a surprise to see him out hitting.”

Not even a serious elbow injury stops him from swinging.

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AP Sports Writer James Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

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