May 04, 2017
By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – There's one last weekend in the Ohio Valley Conference race as the Tennessee Tech softball team tries to lock up a spot in next week's conference tournament in Oxford, Ala.
But the Golden Eagles are going to have to get through league-leading Jacksonville State first. Tech (16-28, 8-8 OVC) will face the Gamecocks in a twinbill on Friday, starting at 1 p.m. Inclement weather could play a factor in Friday's contests, so updates will be made when available.
The Gamecocks, at 15-1, have already locked up the regular-season crown and the top spot in the tournament, but from there, there's still a lot that can happen in this final weekend of play. SIUE and UT Martin currently hold on to the No. 2 and 3 spots at 12-4, while Eastern Illinois (9-4) and Murray State (10-6) round out the top five. Eastern Kentucky is sixth at 9-9, while the Golden Eagles (8-8) and Belmont (8-12) hold on to the last two spots.
Tech is in good shape to potentially make the tournament field, but its spot is not secure. Two Tech losses this weekend, coupled with two Belmont wins and two Morehead State victories could send the Golden Eagles to the outside looking in.
Belmont hosts Tennessee State on Friday, while Morehead State is at Eastern Kentucky.
Also on Saturday is the Golden Eagles' Senior Day as Tech will honor its 2017 senior class, which includes Amity Brown, Sarah Freels, Kelly Kennedy, Danielle Liberatore, Gabby Perez and Alyssa Richards. The ceremony will take place before the start of game one.
Beating the Gamecocks, however, will not be an easy feat as JSU holds on to a 36-10 record this season, including just one conference loss – a 7-5 defeat at the hands of UT Martin on March 25. Since then, the Gamecocks have won 17 of their last 18 games, the only blemish a 2-1 loss to Ole Miss on April 26.
As a team, Jacksonville State is batting .306 and the amount of power coming in is staggering. The Gamecocks have outscored their foes 263-93, while driving in 243 runs, including 41 home runs. Their top nine hitters all have 15 or more RBI this season, led by Anna Chisolm (.349) with 34. JSU has six batters hitting higher than .300, with Jamie McGuire leading the way with a .364 clip. They can also be pretty patient at the plate – the Gamecocks have 124 walks and 186 strikeouts.
But the Gamecocks also have solid pitching in the circle as JSU touts a 1.68 team earned run average. Whitney Gillespie (17-4) has a 1.11 ERA with 55 walks and 138 strikeouts in 164 2/3 innings, while Taylor West (15-4) has a 1.93 ERA with 45 walks and 122 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings.
Tech is 22-29 against Jacksonville State all-time in program history and have lost the last three meetings with the Gamecocks. Aalia Bivens leads the team in batting average with a .316 clip, while Kelly Kennedy has a team-high nine home runs, followed by Bivens, Richards and Gabby LaSala with seven each. Richards also leads the team with 23 RBI.
In the circle, the Golden Eagles will use Liberatore (8-9, 3.32 ERA) and Leigh Ellen Thomas (6-13, 4.61 ERA).
Fans will be able to follow along the action with live stats on TTUsports.com, as well as through the team's Twitter feed -- @TTU_Softball.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information