Matt Bragga, Head Coach
The 2013 and 2010 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year and the 2013 and 2009 Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year, Matt Bragga just finished his 12th year at the helm of the Tennessee Tech baseball team. The Tennessee Tech head coach has made the baseball program a model of consistency.
On the field, over the past eight years, his teams have the highest average conference finish of any team in the 11-team Ohio Valley Conference, including three championship seasons. The Golden Eagle baseball squad has also had players sign with Major League Baseball for nine straight years, including an OVC-record six student-athletes signing after the 2014 season. In the classroom, his past 11 teams have the 10 highest team GPA marks since records started being kept in 1972. The 2014 team holds the record with a 3.20 GPA and the 2015 squad ranks right behind with a 3.17 mark.
Bragga's 2014 squad tied the school record for wins, a record it had set in 2013, as it became one of only two OVC teams in conference history to win 40 games in back to back seasons. The 2014 team not only had six players sign with a Major League Baseball team, it had four players drafted in the first 12 rounds. The 2014 season also saw a school-record two student-athletes named post season TPX Louisville Slugger Collegiate Baseball News First Team All-Americans and one named to the second team. Only Oregon State could match this feat.
The 2014 club was also No. 1 in the country in runs scored per game (8.3), total home runs (83), (out-slugging their opponents by a margin of 52 home runs), home runs per game (1.41), and slugging percentage (.495). It also ranked seventh in the country in fielding percentage at .979.
2013 was a record-breaking year for Bragga’s squad as they compiled a school record 40 wins and an Ohio Valley Conference record 24 victories. The 2013 squad ranked near the top in the nation in several major categories, covering all facets of the game: pitching, defense, and offense. The team ranked seventh in the country in scoring (7.3 runs/game), 13th in fielding percentage (.979), seventh in home runs per game (.95), 26th in batting average (.303), eighth in slugging percentage (.464), and second in strikeouts per nine innings (9.0). The 2013 club also had eight members make the All-OVC first or second team, six of whom were underclassmen. The team also had one National Player of the week and one National Pitcher of the week.
The 2013 baseball team tied a school record with a 14-game win streak and beat the No. 2 nationally ranked Vanderbilt Commodores on the road. No team in any sport, in the history of Tennessee Tech athletics had ever beaten a higher ranked team prior to the win at Vanderbilt.
At the conclusion of the 2013 season, Bragga’s Golden Eagles compiled an 8-4 record against teams that reached the 64 team NCAA Regional field including a mark of 5-3 against opponents ranked in the top 35 in the country.
Off the field, the 2013 team excelled as well, as they set a program record for team G.P.A. They finished the fall semester with a 3.177 mark and bettered that in the spring with 3.215. Twenty-six out of 35 team members had a 3.0 G.P.A. or higher this spring. This is the fifth year out of the past six where a new team G.P.A. record was set and then broken the next school year.
In 2012, one of Bragga’s former student-athletes, Stephen Pryor, reached the Major Leagues with the Seattle Mariners. Pryor had been a fifth round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2010 and flashed a 100 mph fastball in his MLB debut against the Chicago White Sox in June of 2012.
Offensively in 2012, the Golden Eagles were splendid, ranking 26th in the nation in batting average (.299), 13th in home runs per game (.92), 19th in on base percentage (.391), and 29th in slugging percentage (.434). On the mound, Matthew Shepherd helped lead the pitching staff and was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the June MLB draft. Five players from the 2012 team were named All-Conference and power-hitting first baseman Zach Stephens was named second team All-Region.
The 2011 Golden Eagles finished fourth in the league standings as four student-athletes were named to All-OVC teams. Slugger Zach Stephens was named to the TPX freshman All-American Team and 2010 First Team All-American Chad Oberacker was drafted for the second time in his Tech career, going to the Oakland Athletics. In the classroom, the 2011 team posted the best team G.P.A. in school history with a 2.94 combined fall and spring mark.
In 2010 the Golden Eagles finished the season winning 15 of their last 16 conference games to win the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship, their second title in as many years. The team was also voted the league's Sportsmanship Award winner.
2010 also marked the first time in history that the Tech program had won 30+ games in a season for three straight years. Individually, five team members were voted to All-Conference teams and sluggers Chad Oberacker and A.J. Kirby-Jones were both named TPX/ABCA first team All-Americans, the first time in school history that two players had been named first team All-America in one decade, let alone one season.
Beyond being ranked 29th nationally in batting average (.332) and 12th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.7), the team also boasted the second highest team G.P.A. in its history, garnering a 2.915. The 2010 club also set a program record for Major League Baseball draft picks in a season when four Golden Eagles heard their names called in the MLB Draft. Right handed flame thrower Stephen Pryor went to the Seattle Mariners in the fifth round, all-time home run king A.J. Kirby-Jones went to the Oakland A’s in the ninth round, all-time hits leader Chad Oberacker went to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 19th round, and power left handed pitcher Adam Liberatore was chosen by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 21st round. All four of these young men are still playing as Pryor is in the big leagues with the Mariners, Liberatore in Triple A with the Rays, Oberacker in Double A with the A’s, and Kirby-Jones in Double A with the Padres.
In 2009, the Golden Eagles made a thrilling run to sweep the Ohio Valley Conference baseball tournament and eliminate No. 14 Alabama from the NCAA regionals, setting the standard for what proved to be an epic 2010 season. They finished the 2009 season with a 31-24-1 record, marking the first back-to-back 30-win seasons in Tech history. The Golden Eagles swept the OVC tournament, going 4-0, including back-to-back extra-inning victories over Jacksonville State to clinch the OVC title.
They went on to the NCAA regional in Clemson, S.C., where they eliminated No. 14 Alabama before being eliminated by eventual regional-champion Clemson. The Golden Eagles had two all-conference team members, six all-tournament team members, and the OVC tournament MVP in A.J. Kirby-Jones. Alex Henry was also named to the all-regional team at the Clemson Regional. Following the 2009 season, pitcher Ryan Dennick was drafted by Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Royals.
Off the field the 2009 club established the top G.P.A. mark in school history with a 2.928 mark for the year.
Bragga has built a solid foundation for his program — on the field and in the classroom — during his nine and a half years as head coach, and knows that Tech baseball will continue to reach new heights in and out of the Ohio Valley Conference.
In 2011, 10 Golden Eagles were named to the OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll, bringing the total number of players who have earned the honor to 65. This is the second time at least 10 Golden Eagles have been named to the honor roll in a season under Bragga.
The veteran coach continues his work toward redefining the program with high ideals and even greater expectations.
Taking over the head coaching reins in January 2004, Bragga has shown the dedication needed to win multiple OVC championships, and his players exhibit that same down-to-earth determination, day-in and day-out. His plan has brought about marked improvements in the team’s on-field performance, academic performance, alumni support and program facilities.
On the field, Bragga’s silent resolve has taken the program from a 13-42 record in his first full year in 2005, improving 5.5 games in 2006 with a record of 18-36, making an eight game improvement in 2007 with a record of 26-28, and another seven game improvement in 2008 as the Golden Eagles went 35-23-1, leading to the OVC championship and an NCAA Regional berth in 2009 and two more OVC Championships in 2010 and 2013. With success on the recruiting trails, Bragga continues to take the baseball program to a new level.
Before taking the head coaching position at Tech, Bragga spent three and a half years as an assistant coach at Birmingham Southern College under head coach Brian Shoop from July 2000 to December 2003. He spent the majority of his time at BSC working as the hitting and outfielder coach as well as recruiting for the Panthers. Under Bragga’s direction, BSC hitters batted a combined .316 during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
In 2004, after accepting the job as Tennessee Tech head coach Bragga, led his former Birmingham-Southern ball club win the Big South Conference title, winning 47 games and losing just 18. They received an at-large birth to the NCAA Regional’s in Athens, GA in BSC’s first year eligible for NCAA D-I post season play. In 2003, the BSC team went 33-18 as 10 Panthers hit over .300 for a team batting average of .318. The Panthers scored 7.9 runs per game which ranked 15th in NCAA Division I. For the 2002 season, BSC’s first as an NCAA D-I member, the Panthers finished with a 32-20 record. Before moving to the NCAA Division I for the 2002 season, the Panthers won the school’s first ever NAIA National Championship in 2001 as 11 Panthers hit .300 or better and averaged 8.5 runs per game. In 2001, the Panthers set a school record for most wins in a season, going 55-11.
Bragga also owned some head coaching experience before coming to Tech. At the age of 25, prior to his role at Birmingham Southern, Bragga served as the head coach at Bevill State (Ala.) Community College for four seasons.
Bragga took over a Bevill State baseball program that, prior to his arrival, had an all-time record of 175-350 (.343), and was considered by many one of the worst programs in the state of Alabama. With the Bears going 39-20 in 1998, Bragga’s second season at Bevill State resulted in a school record for most wins in one season. That team also participated in the schools first-ever postseason tournament. In 1999, Bragga led his squad to a 40-19 record, surpassing his previous record and taking the team to another regional tournament.
During his time at Bevill, his teams compiled a 148-86 record and BSCC went from a .343 winning percentage prior to Bragga’s arrival, to one of Alabama’s best Community/Junior College programs, amassing a remarkable .630 winning percentage during his time.
Before jumping into the college ranks, Bragga served as head coach for the Junior American Legion Baseball Team Post 208 that won the Alabama state championship in 1996. That same year, he also took on the role as assistant coach for the Tuscaloosa County High School baseball squad.
One aspect that makes Bragga such an influential coach, and what some describe as a player’s coach, is that he has coached and played at nearly every level of baseball. Bragga played his collegiate career for the University of Kentucky Wildcats, earning four letters from 1991 to 1994.
He played multiple positions at Kentucky, including outfield, catcher, first base and designated hitter, and also excelled at the plate. Bragga earned multiple honors including second-team All-Southeast region and Southeastern Conference all-tournament first-team in 1993. In his senior season Bragga finished with a .408 batting average in SEC play, which ranked him second in the league.
He also etched his name in the Kentucky baseball record books, ranking among UK’s all-time best in multiple season and career categories. During Bragga’s four-year career with UK, the baseball team compiled the most wins in any four-year period of UK baseball, a record which was recently broken by the 2005-2008 Kentucky squads.
After graduating from Kentucky with a degree in communications, Bragga signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds organization in 1994. He played one season in the Pioneer League with the Butte (Montana) Copper Kings before moving to Charleston, W.Va., to play with the Cincinnati Reds’ Single A affiliate the following season. Bragga earned his master’s degree from the University of Alabama.
Matt is married to the former Elisa Currins, a 1997 graduate of the University of Alabama. The couple are the proud parents of two children — Luke and Emerson.
Larry Braga, Director of operations
Larry Bragga is in his 11th season as a member of the Golden Eagle baseball staff, handling a variety of duties to help build the program directed by his son, Tech head coach Matt Bragga.
A 1967 graduate of the Ohio State University, Bragga earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and speech before moving on to Kent State University where he received his master’s in education administration.
Bragga spent 24 years as a high principal at Jefferson High School and Painesville Riverside High School before retiring in 1997. He was elected and served as mayor of Jefferson, Ohio for seven years before his arrival at Tennessee Tech.
A baseball coach his entire life, Bragga served several coaching roles over the years prior to his time in Cookeville. He spent time coaching high school baseball at Ashtabula Harbor High School, summer ball at several different levels and assisting his son at Bevill State Community College in Alabama.
He has proved to have an eye for talent and has recruited many collegiate, minor and major league players during his many years in baseball. He joined in the TTU staff in August of 2006. Bragga serves the program wherever he is most needed. He has been a bench coach, recruiting coordinator, operations coach, equipment manager, mental skills director and academic coach, while also handling many administration duties.
He feels truly blessed to be working with the entire Golden Eagle coaching staff and most especially, the student-athletes of Tennessee Tech.
Bragga, and his wife, Carol, are the proud grandparents of Luke, Elle and Emerson.
Justin Holmes, assistant coach/recruiting coordinator
Justin Holmes is in his third year as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Tennessee Tech baseball team, offering a strong baseball background, both as a player at the University of Georgia and minor league baseball, and as a coach at Georgia and Mercer.
An assistant at Mercer University from 2010-2013, Holmes served as both the hitting coach and first base coach to the 2013 Atlantic Sun Championship squad. The Bears earned a 43-18 record on its way to its first ever regular season championship and NCAA Tournament berth. The team also found itself ranked for the first time in program history.
During his tenure at Mercer, Holmes helped develop and coach a First-Team All-American, three Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans, two Capitol One Academic All-Americans, three ABCA/Rawlings All-South Team members, the 2013 A-Sun Player of the Year, the 2012 A-Sun Freshman of the Year the A-Sun Scholar-Athlete of the Year, 10 All-Atlantic Sun selections and three players who went to play professional ball. He also helped coordinate a defense that finished first in the NCAA in fielding percentage in 2013.
Mercer won 121 games during his three seasons as a member of the coaching staff, finishing in the top 100 in RPI as well.
Prior to working at Mercer, Holmes served as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater, the University of Georgia, from 2007-2010. He served as the first base coach while preparing and conducting practice sessions devoted to hitter development, base running and infield defense on a daily basis.
In 2008, he was part of the coaching staff that won the 2008 SEC Championships and finished second at the College World Series. Holmes coached and developed two All-Americans, the 2008 SEC Player of the Year, two All-SEC First Team selections from the infield and a Rawlings NCAA Division I Gold Glove winner. He saw six former UGA players move on to professional baseball in his time as coach and helped develop a defense that led the SEC in fielding percentage in 2008.
After playing one season at the University of South Florida, Holmes transferred to and played three seasons at the University of Georgia, starting at shortstop from 2002-2004. The captain and co-MVP of the 2004 SEC Championship team, Georgia finished third in the College World Series and finished the season with a 45-23 record. He earned an All-SEC Second Team selection that year, as well as All-Regional and Super Regional honors while batting a team-best .332 with eight home runs and 56 RBI. He finished his career as the program's all-time leader in fielding percentage for a shortstop and as a two-time Scholar Athlete Honor Roll recipient.
A 26th round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2004, Holmes played in the Indians organization for two years, spending time in Burlington, N.C. in the Appalachian League and Eastlake, Ohio for Lake County in the South Atlantic League. He also played for the Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums of the Frontier League where he was a two-time All-Star selection and finished as the franchise's all-time hits leader.
A graduate of UGA in 2005, Holmes earned his bachelor's degree in classical culture. He is married to the former Elizabeth Newsome of Washington, Ga., a 2008 graduate of the UGA veterinary school and member of the Georgia's 2003 and 2004 national championship equestrian teams. The couple lives in Cookeville with their son, Rider and daughter, Vera.