By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator/Softball
AUBURN, Ala. -- With frigid temperatures blanketing Cookeville,
the Tennessee Tech softball team flocks south for the weekend to
kick off its 2014 campaign in the Plainsman Invite hosted by Auburn
University. The three-day affair begins with an early morning
matchup on Friday as Tech will lock up with Louisiana-Monroe at
10:30 a.m. before consecutive doubleheaders on Saturday and
Saturday's double dip features matchups with Notre Dame at 9
a.m. and North Dakota State at 11 a.m., while on Sunday the Golden
Eagles will clash with host Auburn at 1 p.m. and Louisiana-Monroe
for the second time in the weekend at 3 p.m.
"We are definitely excited to get the season underway,
especially with the weather of late. We haven't had the chance to
get outside much, so I know we are all excited to go down south and
get some better weather to play in," second-year head coach Bonnie
Bynum claimed on the christening of another softball season. "This
tournament is definitely going to test us right off the bat. It's
going to see what we are made of early on, but I think we have done
a good job of preparing for these opponents and everyone is just
really excited to get going."
Tennessee Tech is coming off a 22-28 2013 campaign, finishing in
seventh place in the Ohio Valley Conference with an 11-11 mark in
Bynum's first year at the helm. The solid season netted TTU with
its 19th all-time trip to the OVC Postseason
Heading into this year, the Golden Eagles said goodbye to seven
players, including four key seniors with the departures of
infielders Brittney and Chanelle Spalding, outfielder Melody
Christian, and pitcher Claudia Harke. Christian leaves as one of
the most prolific offensive players in Tech history, ranking ninth
in school history with a .332 batting average, seventh all-time
with 234 career hits, tied for fifth all-time with 130 runs scored,
and second in program history with 89 stolen bases.
Even with some of the key losses, Tech returns a great deal of
offensive firepower, most notably senior catcher Kendall
Hooper. The Hermitage, Tenn., native was one of just two
players last year to start in all 50 games, finishing tied for
first on the squad with four home runs, and second on the team with
a .281 batting average.
"Kendall is going to be someone to watch this year," Bynum said
on this year's offense. "We are also high on freshman Alyssa
Richards and sophomore Olivia
Bennett. Those three players will probably be in the meat of
our lineup and we expect big things from them."
Richards enters her TTU tenure as a dynamic utility player from
Italy, Texas. As a senior out of Italy High School, Richards took
home District and Team MVP honors, finishing with video game like
numbers of a .553 batting average, six home runs, 52 RBI's, a .729
on-base percentage, and a 1.118 slugging percentage.
The Golden Eagles will also welcome back junior infielder Hannah
Eldridge, who compiled a solid 2013 season, starting in 46
games, hitting .268 with a team-leading 24 runs batted in.
Shifting to the center of the diamond and inside the circle,
Tech brings an impressive blend of veteran presence and young
talent with a 1-2 punch of junior Taylor Ketchum
and freshman Danielle
Liberatore. As a sophomore in 2013, Ketchum led the Golden
Eagles in virtually every pitching category, including 15
victories, a 2.71 earned run average, 147.1 innings, 75 strikeouts,
and three shutouts.
As far as Liberatore is concerned, the 5-10 southpaw will suit
up in Tech purple and gold after racking up gaudy numbers
throughout her high school career at Peotone High School in
Peotone, Ill. As a senior, Liberatore went 19-3 with a 0.54 ERA,
fanning 213 batters in 141 innings of work.
Looking at the weekend, the Golden Eagles will square off with
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.
This year Notre Dame is picked third in the ACC preseason poll
after winning the BIG EAST Conference regular-season championship
in its final year in the conference. The Irish return a wealth of
talent, including USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the
Year Top 10 finalist Emilee Koerner, who hit .439 with a team
record 21 doubles, 11 home runs, and 47 RBI's in 2013.
Auburn comes into its host tourney after ending last year 30-23,
7-17 in the SEC for a 13th place finish. Two Tigers were
named to the preseason All-SEC team, redshirt junior Morgan Estell,
who hit .344 with four homers, 23 RBI, and a school-record 60 runs
scored last season, and sophomore Emily Carosone, who earned a spot
on the All-SEC freshman team after hitting a team-high .389 with
four home runs and 35 RBIs.
Tech will also square off twice with Louisiana-Monroe over the
weekend, a team that went 19-35 and 3-20 in the Sun-Belt Conference
TTU's final competitor in Auburn, North Dakota State, put
together a successful 2013 campaign with a 33-16 overall record and
a regular season Summit League Championship after amassing an
impressive 17-1 conference mark. 13 Bison return from last year's