By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Break out the bats, dust off the cleats and put on the eye black – the season is ready to start.
The Tennessee Tech softball team takes to the field this weekend for its first action in its 34th season of play as it heads to Hattiesburg, Miss., for the Southern Miss Black and Gold Invitational.
Tech gets the season started on Saturday at 10 a.m. Central as the Golden Eagles take on Central Arkansas. It's Tech's first meeting against the Bears from Conway, Ark. The program is in its 11th season and was projected to finish third in the Southland Conference. They return three All-SLC hitters in Libby Morris, Kaylyn Shepherd and Morgan Felts.
Morris (.338) and Felts (.310) both hit over .300 last season, while Morris led UCA with six home runs.
In the circle, Rio Sanchez is expected to build on a stellar freshman campaign where she recorded a 2.77 ERA and an 8-7 record, while Rachel Haberman recorded a team-high 10 wins last year with a 3.31 ERA.
Friday's other action sees the Golden Eagles take on host Southern Miss at 5:30 p.m. Central. Tech is 1-4 against the host Golden Eagles all-time, but the two teams have not squared off since March 20, 1999, with two games in Tech's inaugural season in 1986 and two more the following year.
Southern Miss finished 19-36 a year ago and return two of its four leading hitters in Destini Brown and Samantha Papp. Brown was a .333 hitter with 22 RBI and five home runs, while Papp was a .285 hitter with 28 RBI and four homers.
USM lost all six of its pitchers from a season ago, but brought in transfer Abby Trahan from Saint Francis, as well as a pair of freshman arms in Makenna Pierce and Kaylan Ladner.
On Sunday, Tech opens up the day with a 10 a.m. Central contest against Jackson State. Another new face to the Golden Eagles, JSU touts an All-SWAC preseason player in outfielder Kelsey Smith, who hit .327 last year with 19 RBI, 10 doubles, two home runs and a triple.
The Golden Eagles close out the tournament with a 12:30 p.m. game against Houston Baptist. The Huskies finished 9-34 last season and return top hitters Demi Janak and Heidi Jaquez. Janak struck for nine home runs as she hit .292 and drove in 26 runs, while Jaquez was a .288 hitter with 21 RBIs and six homers.
In the circle, Houston Baptist returns its top hurler in Jessica Petak, who compiled a 6-19 record last season with a 3.52 ERA.
Meanwhile, it will be the first action for the Golden Eagles themselves. Tech returns four of its top five hitters and two of its three pitchers, giving some experience where needed, but the roster also features eight freshmen among its 20 spots.
Tech's leading hitter a year ago, Raegan Sparks, ended the campaign with a .295 batting average with 29 RBI and nine home runs. The leading returning pitcher, Kayla Hughes, posted a 5-12 record with a 4.64 ERA.