By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Sophomore shortstop Sydney Love-Baker grew up playing in bigger parks than the Tennessee Tech softball field. After all, she played in a girls baseball league and also put up incredible offensive numbers on the prep level.
But during her freshman campaign with the Golden Eagles, the Washington, D.C. native did not collect a single home run. Her previous two years on the high school level, she had 29.
If she continues to hit at the pace she's been knocking homers out of the park this season, it might be a return to form.
Love-Baker hit her fifth round-tripper of the season on Tuesday as she, along with senior Gabby LaSala, went yard to lead Tennessee Tech to a 7-0 victory on Evansville.
"It starts with the swing of the bat," Love-Baker said. "My teammates really helped out. They give me a lot of confidence. Getting that home run today, that felt really good."
The offensive production was something Tech needed as it struggled offensively against Bradley on Sunday.
"We told them to focus on getting quality at-bats," head coach Bonnie Graham said. "They needed to make sure they were swinging at their pitches. That's exactly what they did. They executed the game plan. When we do that, we're generally good hitters. We're not getting ahead of ourselves or swinging at the pitchers' first pitch. We were swinging at the pitches we wanted to."
Love-Baker added, "We just flushed out Sunday from our mind. It was a new day and a new opportunity to hit. We were going to play our game and we came out on top."
The Golden Eagles (9-8) also kept the Purple Aces' bats quiet as Alyssa Arden picked up her fifth win of the season, holding Evansville (10-11) to three hits in the contest. She walked none and struck out five. Callie Piper also saw her earned run average drop to a scant 1.17 mark as she came on in relief, throwing the final frame without yielding a hit or a walk while striking out one.
Catcher Raleigh Lewis also helped the cause there, erasing two Evansville base runners as she connected with Love-Baker at short and LaSala at third to throw out two base stealers. The Purple Aces entered the game 47-for-57 on steal attempts – Tuesday they went 0-for-2. Evansville stranded two total base runners.
"Raleigh has a cannon for an arm," Graham said. "When she's confident in her throws, she takes her time and makes a good throw. When she believes in herself, I truly believe she can throw out just about anyone."
Love-Baker added, "She hit me right on the money. It was a perfect throw. She's got a lot of energy and she's a beast behind the plate."
Jaime Nurrenbern took the loss for Evansville, allowing four runs – two earned – on three hits as she lasted just the opening inning. Emily Lockhart went the final five frames, allowing three runs on two hits, walking one and striking out four.
All of the scoring in the contest came in two innings. Tech put a four-spot on the board in the bottom of the first as Beth McCulley led off the inning with a single down the third base line, then Lewis reached on a fielder's choice as the Aces erased McCulley at second.
Facing a 2-1 pitch, Love-Baker launched a shot to left center and the outfielder could do nothing but watch it sail over the fence for a 2-0 lead. After LaSala reached on a walk, Raegan Sparks singled to left, then a fielding error at second allowed LaSala to score with Sparks on third and Hallie Davis on second. Leigh Ellen Thomas drove Sparks in with a grounder to second.
The 4-0 lead continued to hold and Tech added more insurance in the fifth with three more runs. With one down, Lewis was hit by a pitch, then Love-Baker collected a hit on a bunt on the third base side. Lewis' pinch runner, Chandler Caldwell, and Love-Baker moved up a base on a wild pitch, then LaSala lofted a 1-2 pitch over the left field wall for a three-run bomb, her first home run of the season.
The Golden Eagles return to action on Saturday as they host East Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon for a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. Admission to all games at the Tech Softball Field is free.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information