By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
GREENVILLE, N.C. – Winners of five of the last six, the Tennessee Tech softball team was slowed down on Saturday as the Golden Eagles lost both games of a doubleheader to open their three-game series at East Carolina. A slow start cost Tech (5-10) in an eventual 7-1 defeat in the first game of the twin bill, before it took extra innings to see the Pirates (10-4) take game two, 4-3 in eight innings.
In the first affair, the Golden Eagles spotted ECU six runs in the bottom of the first after the Pirates hit two long balls in the frame. Already leading 1-0, senior Jordan Lewis's grand slam pushed the margin to 5-0, which was followed up by a Casey Alcorn solo shot two batters later to extend the lead to 6-0.
The six-run deficit proved to be too much for TTU to overcome, as the Golden Eagles could only muster three hits off junior hurler Sarah Christian, who improved to 7-1 after going the distance and allowing one run on three hits, while walking one and punching out six.
Tech did manage to break Christian's shutout bid in the top of the seventh inning, plating a run on an Olivia Bennett double to left center that brought home senior Chelsea Burgess all the way around from first.
The Golden Eagles received a stellar outing out of the bullpen from sophomore Hannah Weaver, with the Corona, Calif. native tossing 3 2/3 innings of shutout ball for Tech, surrendering just three hits. Starting pitcher, freshman Danielle Liberatore (3-4) was tagged with the loss after going 2 1/3 innings and allowing seven earned on seven hits.
The Golden Eagles bounced back in the day's second tilt, erasing an early deficit after East Carolina jumped on the board in the bottom of the second inning thanks to a sacrifice fly by sophomore Meredith Mitchell to give the Pirates a 1-0 advantage.
Tech scored three times in the top of the fourth to capture the lead, using a trio of clutch hits to go on top. Sophomore Samantha Cook started the inning with a walk, before fellow sophomore Cortney Fry reached on an ECU throwing error that moved Cook all the way to third.
With runners on the corners and none down, senior Kendall Hooper knotted the affair with an RBI single to center, scoring Cook and advancing Fry to third. Tech's rally lost some steam after Hooper was thrown out trying to swipe second, but sophomore Madison Taylor picked the Golden Eagles right back up with a run-scoring double to right center, giving TTU its first lead of the afternoon at 2-1.
Two batters later with Taylor at third and two away, junior Angi Sakamoto gave Tech its third run of the inning, reaching on an infield single that brought around Taylor to propel TTU to a 3-1 advantage.
Sakamoto was one of three Golden Eagles to notch at least two hits in the day's second tilt, as she was accompanied by Samantha Cook, who went 2-for-3, and Madison Taylor, who paced Tech with a 3-for-4 showing, including two doubles and an RBI to push her average to a team leading .304.
TTU starting pitcher, junior Taylor Ketchum preserved the lead until the bottom of the fifth when she ran into some two-out trouble. The 6-0 righty from Newcastle, Okla. had retired the first two hitters of the frame, but proceeded to give up three straight hits, including back-to-back RBI doubles by senior Kristi Oshiro and red-shirt junior Abby Wynne that squared the game away at 3-3.
Ketchum would be lifted after the Wynne two-bagger in favor of Hannah Weaver, but did her part in giving the Golden Eagles a chance to win after going the game's first 4 2/3 innings, surrendering three earned while scattering eight hits.
Tech had opportunities to take the lead in the sixth and eighth, but couldn't find a way to scratch a run across, leaving runners on first and second in the sixth, and a runner on third in the eighth.
East Carolina finally won the game in the bottom of the eighth after loading the bases on two singles and a TTU error, before sophomore Kelsi Briggs singled to right field to plate senior Alex Fieldhouse with the winning run.
Weaver (2-3) suffered the loss despite another outstanding effort in relief, tossing three innings and surrendering just one unearned run on four hits, zero walks, and two strikeouts, lowering her ERA to team best 3.75.
ECU's Caroline Umphlett (2-1) earned the win with 4 2/3 innings of relief effort, blanking the Golden Eagles on five hits, no walks, and three punch outs.
Tech will close out the three-game set on Sunday, with first pitch slated for 11 a.m. CT.