By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Ohio Valley Conference play opens up over the weekend for the Tennessee Tech softball team as the Golden Eagles (8-18) travel to the defending conference tournament champions, Jacksonville State, for a three-game series with the Gamecocks (14-5), beginning on Saturday, Mar. 15 with a doubleheader. Saturday's games are scheduled to get underway at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. CT, before the set closes with a single game on Sunday at 1 p.m. CT.
TTU and Jax State each wrapped up last year's OVC slate with an 11-11 mark, but the Gamecocks did capture the conference tournament championship as the No. 6 seed, going 4-0 in Charleston, Ill last May.
Tech will be looking to break a three-game slide after falling to a pair of good teams this week in the form of Lipscomb and Western Kentucky who have a combined record of 37-12-1. The Golden Eagles were upended by Lipscomb twice on Tuesday in a doubleheader at Tech Softball Field, despite solid performances from inside the circle by freshman Danielle Liberatore and sophomore Hannah Weaver.
Each TTU hurler pitched into the seventh inning with the game still hanging in the balance as Liberatore surrendered three runs over the first six frames in the opener with the Bisons, and Weaver followed that up by allowing just one earned run over the first six innings in the second game.
Despite the stellar showings, Lipscomb combined to score seven runs in the two seventh innings of the double dip to down Tech's chances at coming away with a victory. The Bisons padded a 3-1 lead with three in the seventh inning of game one, before erasing a 3-2 deficit with four runs in the seventh inning of the nightcap.
A day later the Golden Eagles were edged 6-1 by Western Kentucky, but another TTU arm did emerge with a strong display on the rubber in relief. Junior Taylor Ketchum did not allow an earned run in 3 1/3 innings of work, giving up just one hit in the process. In fact, the 6-0 righty out of Newcastle, Okla. appeared in relief in all three games during the week, not allowing an earned run over five innings out of the pen.
Ketchum has moved up the Tech pitching ranks, now sporting the lowest ERA on the team at 3.29, while Hannah Weaver boasts a 3.52 mark. Danielle Liberatore leads the Golden Eagles with 41 strikeouts.
Offensively, after a big second game against Lipscomb, senior Chelsea Burgess has taken over the club's home run lead with four long balls and has also set the Golden Eagle pace with 16 runs scored, while junior Angi Sakamoto's 12 RBI's are tops on the squad. Sophomore Madison Taylor leads the team with a .263 batting average and is also in first with 11 extra-base hits. Senior Kendall Hooper continues to lead Tech with 22 hits on the season.
Jacksonville State comes into its OVC opener on a four-game winning streak, using a strong offense not only throughout the hot stretch, but over the course of the entire year with a team batting average of .332, tops in the conference. The Gamecocks boast seven players that are hitting at least .290, led by junior Sara Borders.
The 5-7 infielder from Alexandria, Ala. is leading the OVC in virtually every offensive category, including batting average at .516, slugging percentage at 1.000, runs scored with 23, hits with 32, RBI's with 21, and home runs with seven.
Senior Kalee Tabor has also put together a strong 2014 campaign, hitting .358 with six home runs and 17 RBI's, all second on the Gamecocks.
Inside the circle, JSU has three pitchers with at least three wins, led by senior Tiffany Harbin and sophomore Casey Akenberger who each have four. Harbin has a 4.45 ERA, but has struck out 43 in 39 1/3 innings of work, while Akenberger's earned run average is 4.76.
Jacksonville State leads the all-time series with Tech 22-19, with the two teams splitting four games back in 2012, the last time both schools locked up due to weather cancelling last year's series at TTU.