By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Bayli Cruse's bat sent several balls into the outfield like cruise missiles on Friday as the Tennessee Tech softball team picked up its second straight win, toppling the Hilltoppers 7-6 in the second day of the Chattanooga Challenge.
Cruse went 3-for-4 in Tech's lone game of the day, driving in five runs with a three-run home run and a two-run single. Cruse also scored twice as the Golden Eagles improved to 2-4 on the young season.
The effort from the senior helped junior hurler Leigh Ellen Thomas pick up her first win of the season, coming on in relief from starter Kayla Hughes. Thomas allowed two runs on three hits in an inning and a third, while Hughes allowed two runs on five hits during the first two innings and two-thirds. Taylor Waldrop picked up her first save of the year, working the final three frames, allowing two runs on three hits.
Tech tagged WKU starter Kelsey Aikey for three runs on three hits without recording an out among the game's first four batters. Haylee Towers came on in relief, working the next four frames, allowing four runs – three earned – on seven hits as she took the loss, then Shelby Nunn worked three innings of scoreless ball as she yielded just three hits to the Golden Eagles.
In the Tech first, Beth McCulley reached on a single to left, then Raegan Sparks worked eight pitches into a walk. Cruse stood in with a 1-2 count, then blasted the pitch over the left center field wall for a 3-0 lead.
Tech added two more runs in the third as Gabby LaSala doubled to left center to drive in Cruse, then Hughes hit a single to drive in Taylor Thomas with Hughes caught at second on a 8-2-6 relay after earning the RBI.
The Hilltoppers added two runs in the bottom of the third as Brittany Vaughn hit a two-run shot to left center, making it a 5-2 contest through three.
In the fourth, Tech added its final two runs. Ashley McGowan led the frame off with a single to center field, then Sydney Love-Baker reached on an error at first off of a bunt, putting runners at first and second. McCulley flied out to left, then Sparks singled to center, loading the bases for Cruse. The senior took the first two pitches for balls, then unloaded on the third as she drilled it to right, driving in Love-Baker and McGowan, but Sparks was gunned down at third on a 9-2-5 route.
WKU continued to chip away. Jordan Thomas stole home in the bottom of the fourth, then Rebekah Engelhardt doubled home Kendall Smith in the fifth to make it 7-4 through five. The Hilltoppers tried to make it interesting in the seventh as Smith hit an RBI double to drive in Vaughn, then Morgan McElroy drove in Smith with a single to right center. With runners at first and second with two down, Waldrop was able to strike out Maddie Bowlds to finish the contest.
Tech (2-4) returns to action on Saturday to wrap up its games in the Chattanooga Challenge as the Golden Eagles take on Indiana State at noon and Sacred Heart at 2 p.m., weather permitting.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information