By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
CHARLESTON, S.C. – The bats came alive late for the Tennessee Tech softball team, and behind a dramatic six-run seventh inning in the day's second game against North Carolina A&T (3-4), the Golden Eagles (5-6) smacked an exclamation point on their doubleheader sweep as part of the Charleston Southern Tournament.
A stellar performance from sophomore pitcher Danielle Liberatore (2-4) in the opener pushed Tech to a 2-1 victory over UNC Wilmington (3-2), before the Golden Eagles rallied late to upend the Aggies, 6-3, to run the club's win streak to three consecutive.
Down 3-0 entering the top of the seventh, Tech showed life after getting the first two on thanks to an Olivia Bennett walk and an Alyssa Richards single to right. After Aggie sophomore Maiven McKnight (2-3) retired junior Cortney Fry on a fly ball to right, sophomore Kelly Kennedy put the Golden Eagles on the board with a single to center that plated Bennett and moved pinch-runner Gabby Perez to second.
The Kennedy run-scoring knock was Tech's second of the inning, matching the work that TTU did with the bats over the first six frames of the contest, with Tech only generating an Angi Sakamoto fourth-inning single and a Callen Griffin fifth-inning hit.
Trailing 3-1, Tech moved within one out of a loss after junior Sabrie Neeb reached on a fielder's choice that scooted Perez to third and retired pinch-runner Rachel Karlan at second, but the Golden Eagles showed that the tilt was far from over.
Senior Christian Gibbs began the madness by reaching on an error that brought Perez around with Tech's second run, while Neeb moved to third, and Gibbs was able to advance all the way to second. With TTU now within a run at 3-2, fellow senior Hannah Eldridge stepped to the dish and delivered with the game's biggest hit, a two-out single to center that scored both Neeb and Gibbs to give Tech its first lead of the contest.
The Golden Eagles would go on to plate a pair of insurance runs thanks to an Angi Sakamoto run-scoring single that brought home Eldridge to make the score 5-3, before a second Aggie error in the inning on a ball hit by junior Madison Taylor allowed Sakamoto to cross home with TTU's sixth run of the frame.
Junior Hannah Weaver (3-2) made the lead stand in the bottom of the inning, retiring the final three Aggies after senior Zebresha Blakeney singled to begin the frame. In fact, Weaver settled in rather nicely to earn the complete-game victory after a shaky beginning that saw the 5-foot-5 righty allow three runs in the first behind a Tech error, a Syerra Askew RBI single, and a Kaelyn Moore run-scoring knock.
Maiven McKnight suffered the loss after blanking Tech over the first six innings, before the rough seventh inning sent the Fredericksburg, Va. native to her third loss of the year.
Danielle Liberatore was the story in Saturday's opener, leading the Golden Eagles to a 2-1 win over UNC Wilmington. For the sixth time this season, the 5-foot-10 southpaw went the distance, giving up only one unearned run, while scattering four hits and striking out eight Seahawks for her second win of the season.
Despite mustering just four hits in the game, TTU was able to squeak out two runs, which proved to be more than enough with the way Liberatore was pitching.
The Golden Eagles opened the scoring with a run in the third after Alyssa Richards scored on one of three Seahawk errors in the game. Richards singled with one down, before advancing to second on a fielder's choice, and then making it to third on a Sabrie Neeb walk that loaded the bases. Richards would come around one batter later, scoring on an error on a ball hit by freshman Bayli Cruse that gave Tech a 1-0 advantage.
UNC Wilmington would score in the bottom of the inning, tying up the affair on an RBI sacrifice bunt by sophomore Merritt Wilkinson that pushed across senior Jessica Rappe with the Seahawks' first run.
The Golden Eagles would take the lead for good in the top of the fifth, using small ball to go on top 2-1. Alyssa Richards served as the catalyst once again, leading off the frame with a walk, before she was lifted for pinch runner Gabby Perez. A sacrifice bunt and an error moved Perez to third, before the 5-foot-4 infielder came around to score two batters later on a Sabrie Neeb sacrifice fly that gave Tech the one-run lead.
Liberatore fell into trouble in both the sixth and seventh, but managed to wiggle out of both jams to push the Golden Eagles to the finish line. The Peotone, Ill. native retired the first two batters in the last of the seventh, before yielding a triple to sophomore Merritt Wilkinson to place the tying run just 60 feet away.
UNC Wilmington continued its seventh-inning rally with walks to freshmen Kelsey Bryan and Sarah Davis to load the bases, but Liberatore bounced back by striking out junior Darian Roberts to end the game.
The Golden Eagles will close out their stay in South Carolina on Sunday, squaring off with the host Charleston Southern in a doubleheader. The first game is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. CST, while the second is slated for a 2 p.m. start time.