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March 20, 2014

Softball gets set to host SIUE and EIU in first home conference action of the season

By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech softball team unwraps its home Ohio Valley Conference slate this weekend, hosting SIU Edwardsville and Eastern Illinois for Tech's first home conference action of the year. The Golden Eagles (8-21, 0-3) will square off with SIUE (8-15, 2-0) in a doubleheader beginning at 12 p.m. CT on Saturday, before clashing with EIU (18-7, 0-0) in a twin bill also kicking off at 12 p.m. CT on Sunday.

For the first time all season, all four games this weekend will be broadcasted on the OVC Digital Network, produced by the Golden Eagle Sports Network. CLICK HERE TO WATCH.

Tech will be searching for its first conference victory of the season after the Golden Eagles were swept in a three-game series last weekend against Jacksonville State, the preseason No. 1 team in the East Division and current owner of the best overall record in the OVC of 17-6.  

TTU did show resiliency in the set with the Gamecocks after a pair of tough losses on Saturday, bouncing back to take a 3-1 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh in the series finale. Tech would go on to drop the affair behind a four-run JSU seventh inning, despite a solid performance inside the circle from sophomore Hannah Weaver, who went the distance and surrendered just two earned runs in the tilt.

Tech hit two home runs in the game with both junior Angi Sakamoto and senior Kendall Hooper going yard, helping put the Golden Eagles in the upper half of the OVC leader board in long balls. TTU's 12 home runs put them in a tie for fourth place in the conference, while Tech's 36 extra-base hits are good enough for fourth in the OVC as well.

Sakamoto and senior Chelsea Burgess have paved the way with four long balls each, while sophomore Madison Taylor is right on the pair's heels, smacking three out of the park. Taylor is also tops on the Golden Eagles with a .277 batting average and is leading the club with 12 extra-base hits. Sakamoto is the team leader with 12 RBI's and Chelsea Burgess is Tech's top run scorer with 16 on the year.

SIUE has started off the conference season in promising fashion, sweeping Austin Peay in a doubleheader last Saturday in Edwardsville. The Cougars, the preseason No. 1 team in the West Division, garnering seven more first place votes than Jacksonville State, captured both contests with the Governors by eight runs, winning 10-2 and 8-0.

Sophomore Haley Chambers and senior Erin Greenwalt each pitched complete games in the double dip sweep, combining to surrender just four hits, while striking out 17 and not allowing a walk the entire afternoon.

Chambers and Greenwalt have paced the Cougars this season, with the duo throwing all but seven innings on the year. Chambers comes into the weekend with a team-low 2.51 ERA, while Greenwalt's is a respectable 3.21.

Offensively, SIUE has three players hitting above .300 with both Haley Chambers and senior Jill Rackers hitting .333, and fellow senior Chelsea Yankolovich hitting .310. The Cougars have hit only two home runs on the year, one by Rackers and one by freshman Allison Smiley, who also leads the team with 13 RBI's.

Edwardsville leads the all-time series with the Golden Eagles 7-3, including taking all three matchups last season with Tech, most notably a 4-3 win in the opening round of the OVC tournament.

As far as Eastern Illinois is concerned, the defending regular season conference champions have yet to play an OVC game after last weekend's three-game home set with Southeast Missouri was cancelled due to inclement weather. The Panthers will square off in a doubleheader with Jacksonville State on Saturday before traveling to Tech.

EIU comes into its first conference action on a roll of late, winning eight of its last nine games, including sweeping East Carolina in a doubleheader in the Panthers last time out back on Mar. 11.

In the circle, Eastern Illinois has a formidable 1-2 punch of seniors Hanna Mennenga and Stephanie Maday. Mennenga is the reigning OVC Pitcher of the Year after setting a new single-season strikeout record with 291 in 2013. This year the 5-11 righty from Gifford, Ill. has fanned 90 batters in 89 2/3 innings, posting a team low 1.95 ERA with a Panther best 10-2 record. Maday's numbers are just about on par with Mennenga, as the Elk Grove Village, Ill. native owns a 2.07 ERA with a 7-3 record.

At the dish, EIU has six players hitting above .300, led by senior Brooke Owens and her .370 batting average. The Vincennes, Ind. product also leads the team with four home runs, and is tied for third with 13 RBI's, trailing senior Reynae Hutchinson's 19 and junior Hannah Cole's 20.

The Golden Eagles own the all-time series with Eastern Illinois, 31-20, but were upended in both affairs last year, falling 6-1 and 4-1.   

Admission to all Golden Eagle home regular season games is free.