By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
AUBURN, Ala. – A drama-filled sixth inning proved to be the difference in Tennessee Tech's season opening tilt with Louisiana-Monroe in the Plainsman Invite hosted by Auburn University. The Golden Eagles and Warhawks combined for eight runs in the chaotic frame, with ULM ultimately edging Tech 9-6 in the back-and-forth affair.
Trailing 5-2 entering the top of the sixth, TTU pounced for four runs to take a slim 6-5 lead. Freshman Alyssa Richards began the comeback bid with a leadoff walk, which was followed by a fielder's choice off the bat of junior Hannah Eldridge to move pinch runner Kristen Sands to second with one down.
Up stepped fellow junior Angi Sakamoto, who quickly brought the Golden Eagles within one thanks to a two-run round-tripper off ULM's Samantha Hamby, cutting the deficit to 5-4. Following Sakamoto's heroics, the rally continued with a Chelsea Burgess walk, before a clutch game-tying triple by sophomore Madison Taylor knotted things up at 5-5.
After Hamby recorded the second out of the inning with Taylor still at third, senior Kayla Floyd put TTU ahead 6-5 with an RBI single to center.
The Warhawks matched Tech's four-run frame with one of their own in the bottom half of the inning, despite the lack of the benefit of a hit. Pitching in her second inning of relief, junior Taylor Ketchum walked two, hit a batter, and fanned two as well, as ULM loaded the bases with two down and sophomore Courtney Dutreix stepping up to the dish.
Ketchum's third free pass of the inning to Dutreix brought home sophomore Amye Barre and deadlocked the score at 6-6 with the bases still chalk full of Warhawks. Moments later ULM took the lead for good on a Golden Eagle throwing error which allowed all three runners to touch up home to push the Warhawks' advantage to 9-6.
Tech did load the bases in the top of the seventh behind a pair of singles from sophomore Olivia Bennett and Angi Sakamoto, and a hit-by-pitch to senior Chelsea Burgess, but Hamby danced out of trouble by getting Madison Taylor to pop out to the catcher to end the game.
Hamby earned her first win of the season, going in the distance and allowing six earned runs, scattering nine hits, walking two, and striking out nine Golden Eagles. Ketchum suffered the loss despite keeping the Warhawks hitless over 1.2 innings of work and surrendering four runs, although only one of which was earned.
Freshman Danielle Liberatore looked impressive early in her first collegiate start inside the circle, holding ULM to just two runs and two hits over the first four innings, before allowing three in the bottom of the fifth as the Warhawks broke a 2-2 affair with an RBI single from Courtney Dutreix and a two-run home run from junior Alexis Cacioppo.
Offensively, Tech was led by the dynamic duo of Olivia Bennett and Angi Sakamoto, as the two combined for five of TTU's nine hits. Bennett put the Golden Eagles on the board just two batters into the game, thanks to a two-run homer that scored senior Kendall Hooper, who led off the contest with a single.
Tech will have a quick turnaround with a doubleheader tomorrow as the Golden Eagles will lock up with Notre Dame at 9 a.m. CT and North Dakota State at 11 a.m. in day two of the Plainsman Invite.