By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Challenging, diverse, and beneficial in the long run are just some of the ways to describe the 2014 Tennessee Tech softball schedule as the Golden Eagles look to return to the pinnacle of the Ohio Valley Conference...and beyond. The slate of 56 games features some of the nation's elite, including six schools that took part in last year's NCAA Tournament, highlighted by College World Series runner up Tennessee.
"I think we've got a good, well-rounded schedule," head coach Bonnie Bynum claimed, now in her second season directing the Golden Eagles. "We have a number of tough opponents that are going to help get us prepared for our conference season. Overall, I'm pretty pleased with the schedule, like I said there are a lot of tough opponents, but it's not too rigorous for us."
The Golden Eagles finished the 2013 season with a 22-28 overall record, 11-11 in the OVC for a 7th place finish. Tech was knocked out of the OVC Tournament with losses to SIU Edwardsville and Eastern Kentucky in the double-elimination format.
The 2014 campaign kicks off in just a few weeks, with the Golden Eagles taking their shot in the Plainsman Invite hosted by Auburn University, Feb. 7-9. The three-day affair features two schools from "power" conferences in Auburn from the SEC and Notre Dame in its inaugural year in the ACC. The Fighting Irish are coming off a stellar 2013 season in which they went 43-15, earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
"We have a lot of diversity as far as who we are playing," Bynum said in reference to Tech's four non-conference tournaments within the first month of the year. "We are playing conferences that are well regarded and will challenge us."
Following the Plainsman Invite, TTU will be on the road for the next two weekends for tournament action. On Feb. 15-16, the Golden Eagles will head to Woodstock, Ga. for the Phyllis Rafter Memorial Tournament hosted by Kennesaw State. Tech will lock up in four games in two days, including going against the host Owls who wrapped up 2013 with a sparkling 34-20 record, however TTU did get the better of them with a 3-0 win last year.
The following weekend will see the Golden Eagles play five times in the span of three days as part of the Frost Classic hosted by UT Chattanooga. Among the loaded tournament field, Tech will square off with one of the six schools that made it to the NCAA Tournament last year in Northwestern State on Saturday, Feb. 22.
After a three-game swing at East Carolina in the first weekend of March, the Golden Eagles will finally make their home debut on Wednesday, March 5, with a double-header against Holy Cross. In total TTU will play 17 games in the first four weekends of the season before making its opening stop at Tech Softball Field.
"We are used to playing on the road early in the season, especially being a little further north," Bynum said on her group's initial voyages away from Cookeville. "It's something that our players are used to so I don't think it's going to be a challenge for us. We have also tried to space out our traveling and are not playing a lot of mid-week games."
The Golden Eagles final non-conference tournament of the year, the Sixth Annual Bulldog Invitational hosted by the University of Georgia, will feature a pair of "power" conference schools in Purdue of the Big Ten and Georgia of the SEC, along with a good Kent State squad that went 16-6 in the MAC last year. Tech's battle with Georgia will mark the third school on TTU's schedule that made it to last year's NCAA Tournament. The three-day, five game tournament is scheduled for March 7-9.
Following the swing in Georgia, Tech returns home for three games in two days with a double-header against Lipscomb on Tuesday, March 11, and a matchup against Western Kentucky on Wednesday, March 12, the fourth team that made it to the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Tech unwraps Ohio Valley Conference play with a three-game series at the defending conference tournament postseason champion and lone OVC representative in last year's NCAA Tournament, Jacksonville State, on March 15-16.
The Golden Eagles welcome in SIU Edwardsville for a double-dip in their OVC home opener on Saturday, March 22, before the defending regular season champs, Eastern Illinois, comes to town the next day for a second consecutive twinbill.
TTU will take a brief break in its conference slate on April 8 for a mid-week tilt over in Knoxville against 2013 College World Series runner-up, the University of Tennessee. The matchup with the Volunteers will mark the final non-conference affair for the Golden Eagles as Tech closes out the year with 13 straight OVC games, including welcoming in Morehead State to Tech Softball Field for a three-game series to cap off the season, May 3-4.
Admission to all of TTU's home games at Tech Softball Field is free of charge. Game days and start times are subject to change.