By Erin Bean, Sports Information Intern
CHARLESTON, Ill. -- Two catches in center field were the difference. One was a diving grab on a sinking line drive that stranded a run in the fifth and the other on a ball over the fence that robbed Tennessee Tech of a potential game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the sixth.
Those two plays by Kayla Joyce helped lift Eastern Kentucky to a
4-1 victory and end the season for the Golden Eagles on the second
day of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament at Eastern
The dark clouds surrounding Williams Field provided an ominous atmosphere Thursday morning as the Golden Eagles saw their hopes end for the program's seventh OVC tourney championship.
Chanelle Spalding scored Tech's lone run on a solo home run, and was the only Golden Eagle with a pair of hits. Brittney Spalding and Angi Sakamoto collected the only other hits of the contest for the Golden Eagles as a pair of EKU pitchers held Tech to four hits in the contest.
Claudia Harke (6-12) sustained the loss, as the senior made her final appearance in a TTU uniform. Fellow senior Melody Christian ended her career without extending her 16-game hitting streak, the longest hit streak in the OVC this season.
EKU jump-started the contest on a bunt tracing the first base line. Harke struck out the next batter, but a home run by Lady Colonel Raquel Howes gave EKU an early, 2-0 lead. The first base line taunted the Golden Eagles again on a single by Katie Tackett, but Harke stranded the catcher at first on another strikeout.
The Golden Eagles faced EKU's Leanna Pittsenbarger, a second-team all-OVC selection, for the third time this season, having split the previous two decisions. The sophomore retired Tech in order through two innings innings, and had a no-hitter through three.
EKU put two runners in scoring position to open the third frame, and one Lady Colonel attempted to score, but Harke and Kendall Hooper got the tag at home. A hit by Sarah Fobbs sent EKU's third run across the plate, and forced a pitching change with one out. Sophomore Taylor Ketchum made the first OVC tournament appearance of her career, ending the inning and keeping the Lady Colonels at a 3-0 lead.
Sakamoto was the first Golden Eagle to reach base on a walk, but Pittsenberger kept Tech hitless through three.
In the fourth, Chanelle Spalding hit her third home run of the season, her second against the Lady Colonels. Spalding's dinger broke Pittsenberger's no-hitter and put Tech on the board, sparking a comeback hope for the Golden Eagles. Brittney Spalding adjusted and followed suit, ripping a line drive up the left side, bringing the tying run Hannah Eldridge to the plate. Eldridge popped out, but the Golden Eagles took the field with rejuvenated energy.
Sakamoto connected for a double in the fifth, but was left on base on a diving catch by Kayla Joyce to end the inning.
Kayla Floyd kicked off the bottom of the sixth beating a ground ball to first base, and Chanelle Spalding returned to the plate. Spalding singled up the middle, putting two Golden Eagles aboard with no outs. Floyd stole third and Spalding advanced to second on the throw, putting the tying run in scoring position. Hooper walked to load the bases on a full-count, a walk that chased Pittsenberger.
Shaylon Robb came on in relief and stepped out of a bind on a controversial call. Floyd, on third base, began her race toward home on a pop fly, and on her return to the bag seeing it go fou,l blocked the third basemen, in foul territory, from catching the ball. The three-man crew discussed the call and gave EKU the out, ruling interference. Brittney Spalding flied out to left but Hannah Eldridge walked to first to load the bases again with two outs. With a full count and tension mounting, freshman Olivia Bennett swung and connected for a long ball to centerfield. EKU's Joyce ran to the warning track, jumped and reached over the fence to rob the freshman of a grand slam.
Eastern Kentucky scored the final run in the top of the seventh. Howes was hit by a pitch and sprinted around the bases on a double by Tackett.
The Golden Eagles ended their season 22-28, 11-11 OVC.