By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
AUBURN, Ala. – The groundhog may have called for six more weeks of winter, but as far as the Tennessee Tech softball team is concerned, spring is here.
The Golden Eagles open their 2018 campaign on Friday morning as they compete in the Plainsman Invitational, hosted by Southeastern Conference foe and No. 13-ranked Auburn. It will be a return trip there for Tech, after facing the host Tigers there in the 2015 NCAA regionals.
Weather, however, has already started to wreak havoc on the schedule. Originally scheduled to play a Friday opener against Furman, the revised schedule now has Tech playing its originally scheduled Sunday games on Friday with the Golden Eagles taking on Wichita State at 9 a.m., then against Auburn at 2 p.m. The latter game is scheduled for an SEC Network Plus broadcast, available through the WatchESPN app and online on ESPN.com.
Following Thursday and Friday's schedule, though, the schedule is to be determined. Updates will be provided through the team's Twitter feed -- @TTU_Softball – and through the TTUsports.com site.
Currently, the weather forecast for Auburn, Ala., has a prediction of thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday with an accumulation of 0.8 inches of rain on Saturday and 0.52 on Sunday, with a plus-50 percent chance of rain for most of the weekend.
With Tech's first game coming against the Shockers, it's an unfamiliar foe to face as the Golden Eagles have never faced Wichita State before. The Shockers went 32-20 last season, including a fourth-place 16-9 finish in the Missouri Valley Conference, reaching the league's tournament semifinals.
Like the Golden Eagles, the Shockers are looking for a new hurler in the circle. Tech lost Danielle Liberatore to graduation, while Wichita State is looking for a replacement for Katie Malone, who posted a 2.21 earned run average and a 26-11 record in 227 2/3 innings of work with 162 strikeouts. Their top returning pitcher, Bailey Klitzke, had a 2-2 record with a 3.94 ERA in 16 appearances last season.
Senior Mackenzie Wright is WSU's top returning hitter, posting a .360 average a year ago with 35 RBI, five home runs and 58 hits. Junior Laurie Derrico can provide some power though, slamming 13 home runs and picking up 47 RBI – both team highs – to go along with a .319 batting average.
The Golden Eagles, however, are no stranger to Auburn, having faced them five times in program history – the most recent being the 2015 NCAA Regionals. Tech is 0-5 all-time against the Tigers.
Auburn is under new direction from head coach Mickey Dean, but has a team in place that returns six starters and 14 letterwinners.
Senior pitcher Kaylee Carson posted a 1.36 ERA and a 27-5 record a year ago, providing top-level leadership in the circle. Junior pitcher Makayla Martin is definitely a threat as well, compiling a 20-6 record in 2017 with a 1.98 ERA. Both pitchers combined for 222 strikeouts.
The Tigers lost top offensive producer Carlee Wallace (52 RBI, 7 HR, .333), but still have a lot of firepower in Alyssa Rivera (.371, 28 RBI) and Kendall Veach (44 RBI, 12 HR, .237).
Also competing in the Plainsman Invitational field is Marshall and Furman.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information