By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech softball team needed a statement win and, on Tuesday, the Golden Eagles found it.
After a 7-0 loss in game one to Jacksonville State, a contest where the Golden Eagles were two-hit by Faith Sims, one of the Ohio Valley Conference's top pitchers, Alyssa Arden certainly made her own case in game two.
The freshman hurler threw her third no-hitter of the season, blanking the Gamecocks in a 2-0 victory in the nightcap. With the no-no, Arden becomes the first Tech pitcher to throw three no-hitters in a single season.
"That's a statement, absolutely," said Tech head coach Bonnie Graham. "I know she's capable of it, she knows she's capable of it. It's just a matter of being consistent and she's starting to find her groove right now."
And what a groove -- In her last four appearances in the circle, which includes a no-hitter against Eastern Illinois and a no-hit bid broken up Saturday in the seventh inning at Murray State, Arden is 3-1 with a 0.83 ERA, allowing four runs – three earned – on 10 hits and nine walks, while striking out 25 with opponents hitting .115 against her.
The effort meant a lot to Arden, because she was focusing on trying to earn the victory for the seniors.
"The seniors said they had never beaten Jacksonville State in their four years here," Arden said, citing the 0-6 record the senior class had against the Gamecocks with Tech's last victory against JSU coming in the 2015 campaign that ended with an NCAA Tournament berth. "That's pretty big for them too. As a freshman, that's just simply awesome."
Fellow freshman and Tech designated player/first baseman Raleigh Lewis interjected, "She's a beast, bottom line."
But after the first game, it was the momentum builder the Golden Eagles (16-18, 6-6 OVC) desperately needed after getting shut out for the third consecutive game.
The Gamecocks tagged started Haeli Bryson with five runs – three earned – on four hits and a strikeout while striking out one. Kayla Hughes closed out the contest, allowing two earned runs on four hits in the final 2 2/3 frames.
Sims, however, went the distance, walking two and striking out five.
Sidney Wagnon drove in two runs after coming into the game on an injury to Hannahstaysia Weaver on a stolen base, while Kirsten Titus and Hayley Sims also picked up RBI.
With the frustrating defeat, Graham rallied the troops.
"We told them that we are good hitters," Graham said. "We had a gameplan and I felt that we were doing well the first couple of innings, then we got frustrated. We have told them a thousand times that frustrated hitters are not good hitters and they need to just go up there and trust their stuff."
Tech's freshman pitcher wasn't focused on the previous game's result.
"All I was going to do was look ahead," Arden said. "I knew what they were capable of, but it was a new game and I was going to focus on this game batter-by-batter."
Arden only allowed three base runners on walks – Lex Hull in the second, Titus in the fourth and Anna Chisolm in the fifth. Outside of that, the freshman struck out eight in the complete-game victory.
But the freshman didn't even try to focus on the hit tally.
"I didn't even notice it until the fourth inning," Arden said. "I just kept repeating in my head to keep doing the same thing that I was doing."
Tech, on the other hand, picked up six hits on JSU's Nicole Rodriguez, who allowed both Golden Eagle runs – both solo home runs – as she walked three and struck out four in five innings of work. Reagan Watkins worked one inning, yielding one hit.
Raegan Sparks broke the scoreless tie – and Tech's 26-inning scoreless drought – with a solo home run in the fourth – her first of the season – then Sydney Love-Baker hit her ninth homer of the year with a round-tripper in the sixth inning.
"Rae got us a big one getting the whatever-you-want-to-call-it off our back," Graham said. "We hadn't scored for so long, so that definitely lit a fire underneath us. Syd's insurance run in the seventh, that was huge."
Arden echoed, "Those were really nice. The insurance there made me relax a little bit. I knew as long as I kept doing what I was doing, we had a shot."
Then it came down to Arden in the seventh. She struck out Titus swinging on a 10-pitch at-bat, coaxed a Hull grounder to Alexis Trimiar at second, then Chisolm, one of the top run producers in the league stood in.
Arden quickly took an 0-2 advantage as her JSU counterpart swung on the first two faced. Then Chisolm knotted the count as she took two balls. But the fifth pitch was it as the JSU second baseman swung and missed for the clinching third strike.
"When the umpire made the call, I was so relieved," Arden said. "I got through it, did what I was supposed to do and I was really excited."
The Golden Eagles return to action on Friday as they travel to Tennessee State for a 1 p.m. doubleheader.