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Softball returns home for three-game set with in-state rival Tennessee State

By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech softball team is set for its first action at home in the month of April, welcoming in OVC and in-state foe Tennessee State for a three-game weekend series. Saturday's matchup with the Tigers (16-27, 4-9) is a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. CT, while Sunday features just one tilt, also starting at 1 p.m.

Saturday's doubleheader will be broadcast on the Golden Eagle Sports Network in partnership with the OVC Digital Network. CLICK HERE TO WATCH.

The Golden Eagles (12-31, 4-10) wrapped up their non-conference slate on Tuesday, falling 13-5 to No. 4 University of Tennessee. Tech was right in the thick of things with the number four team in the nation, trailing by just three entering the fifth inning thanks in large part to the offensive showcase displayed by senior Kendall Hooper.

The 5-foot-6 first basemen hit a pair of home runs in the contest to move her season total to five, tying junior Angi Sakamoto for the team lead. Hooper's five long balls have come in the last 15 games, and the Hermitage, Tenn. native has also driven in a run in four straight tilts.

As far as Sakamoto is concerned, the lefty swinging outfielder is on a torrid pace to lead the Golden Eagles in all three triple crown categories with a .300 average, five round trippers, and 23 RBI's. With two hits against Tennessee, Sakamoto carries a 12-game hitting streak into the weekend series.

Tech split its previous four conference games in last weekend's road trip to Murray State and Austin Peay to move within a game and a half of Belmont for the final playoff spot in May's OVC Tournament. The Golden Eagles received stellar pitching in their two wins against the Racers and Governors, with sophomore Hannah Weaver (4-16) and freshman Danielle Liberatore (6-10) collecting victories.

Liberatore tossed one of the better games all year for TTU, stringing together a complete game shutout on Sunday in a 7-0 win against Peay. The 5-foot-10 southpaw surrendered only four hits in the affair, while striking out 10 for her sixth victory of the year.

Tennessee State comes to town fresh off a doubleheader sweep last Sunday at Southeast Missouri to move to 4-10 in the conference. Late inning heroics was the theme of the day as the Tigers struck for three runs in the sixth of game one to capture a 3-1 victory, while the second game featured a two-run sixth inning home run by freshman Rebekka Gross to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 win.

Gross is one of three TSU players with at least two home runs on the season, as the Angels Camp, Calif. native is accompanied by sophomore Jayna Hanawhine, who has three, and sophomore Lindsey Burgess, who has hit five. Burgess also leads the club with a .298 batting average, while junior Kate Morris is tops on the Tigers with 23 RBI.

Inside the circle, junior Shea Morris (9-10) has put together the best numbers of any TSU arm, leading the team with a 2.88 ERA, nine wins, and 119 strikeouts in 136 innings of work this season. Morris went the distance in her last conference outing in Sunday's 4-3 win over SEMO, allowing three runs on seven hits with four strikeouts. Freshman Hannah St. Clair (3-7) won the opener without allowing an earned run in a complete game effort.

The Tigers dropped both games of a mid-week doubleheader on Wednesday to Samford, falling 12-4 and 4-3 in 11 innings in Nashville.

TTU has dominated the all-time series with Tennessee State, taking 53 of the previous 64 matchups. Tech seized both games last season on the road, winning 7-5 and 7-3 in late April. Kendall Hooper picked up two hits, scored a run, and drove in one as well in the 7-3 victory, a game started and won by junior Taylor Ketchum (1-4). The Newcastle, Okla. native went the distance, allowing three earned on seven hits, while not giving up a walk, and striking out four Tigers.

Admission to all Golden Eagle home regular season games is free.