By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – With just two weekends remaining in the 2014 campaign, the Tennessee Tech softball team will play host to Eastern Kentucky (26-17, 13-6) for a three-game series beginning on Saturday, Apr. 26. The two teams will lock up in a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. CT on Saturday, before closing out the set on Sunday with a single game also beginning at 1 p.m.
Saturday's twin bill will be broadcast on the Golden Eagle Sports Network and OVC Digital Network, with veteran play-by-play voice Roger Ealey set to bring all the action. CLICK HERE TO WATCH.
The Golden Eagles (18-32, 10-11) enter the pivotal series on a roll of late as Tech has captured six of the last seven to catapult themselves right in the thick of things in the Ohio Valley Conference playoff picture. TTU is currently in third place in the OVC East Division and in seventh overall in the conference, with the top eight teams securing a berth in the OVC Tournament, May. 7-10, hosted by the No. 1 team in the league.
The Golden Eagles are coming off a successful road trip last weekend in the club's final regular season road tilts of 2014, taking three-of-four at UT Martin and Southeast Missouri. Tech split with the Skyhawks in a double dip on Apr. 18, before busting out the brooms in a doubleheader sweep at SEMO just one day later.
Freshman pitcher Danielle Liberatore played a crucial role in the successful weekend, appearing in all three Golden Eagle victories. The 5-foot-10 southpaw went the distance in a 6-2 opening win against Martin, allowing only one earned run on four hits, while striking out 10 Skyhawks.
Liberatore followed up the dominating performance with a complete game two-hit shutout against the Redhawks in a 3-0 opening game victory, before coming out of the bullpen to record her first collegiate save behind 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in a 5-3 second game victory.
Liberatore struck out an impressive 19 through 16 1/3 innings over the weekend, and the Peotone, Ill. native has now won five consecutive OVC affairs. She currently leads the Golden Eagles with 10 wins, a 3.40 ERA, and 102 strikeouts, while also setting the pace with a 7-2 conference record and a 2.26 ERA, limiting opponents to just a .196 batting average in 11 OVC appearances.
Sophomore Madison Taylor enjoyed a stellar weekend as well, as the 5-foot-2 outfielder combined to hit .417 in the four games, including knocking her fourth home run of the season as part of Saturday's 3-0 first game win over SEMO. Taylor played the role of hero in the second tilt against the Redhawks, smacking a two-run single to break a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning that led to Tech's 5-3 victory.
Taylor is currently second on TTU with a .297 batting average, two points behind senior Kendall Hooper's .299 mark, and two ahead of junior Angi Sakamoto's .295 clip. Hopper and Sakamoto are tied for the team lead with five home runs each, and Sakamoto's 28 RBI have led the Golden Eagle charge.
Tech swept Tennessee State in a three-game set last time the Golden Eagles were in Cookeville, outscoring the Tigers 23-2 back on Apr. 12-13.
Eastern Kentucky has taken three of its last four OVC contests after splitting a doubleheader with Austin Peay on Apr. 19 and capturing both games of a twin bill against Murray State on Apr. 18. The Colonels are currently second in the OVC East with a 13-6 conference mark, three back of Jacksonville State for the top spot. EKU is in fourth overall in the league, trailing Jax State (17-4), SIUE (16-3), and Eastern Illinois (14-4).
When talking about Eastern Kentucky the conversation has to start with junior pitcher Leanna Pittsenbarger. The righty out of Urbana, Ohio has put up phenomenal numbers in her junior campaign with an 18-8 record, a 1.20 ERA, and 252 punch outs in 169 innings of work. Pittsenbarger is deadlocked with EIU's Hanna Mennenga for the OVC lead with 18 wins, while her 252 strikeouts are 70 more than SIUE's Haley Chambers for the top spot.
Offensively, senior Christina Ciolek leads the team with a .348 batting average, a mark that puts the Richmond, Ky. native in fourth place in the OVC. Ciolek is also tops on the club with nine doubles and 27 RBI. Sophomore Sarah Fobbs' eight long balls are good enough for a tie for fourth place in the conference.
The Colonels are coming off a mid-week split in a Tuesday doubleheader at Northern Kentucky, winning the opener 7-4, before being edged 2-1 in the second game.
Tennessee Tech has won 52 of the previous 82 matchups with Eastern Kentucky, with the two squads splitting last year's four meetings. The Golden Eagles took two-of-three in the regular season, outscoring the Colonels 16-6 in Richmond, but EKU knocked Tech out of the OVC Tournament with a 4-1 victory in a game started and won by Leanna Pittsenbarger.
Admission to all Golden Eagle home regular season games is free.