By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It's easy to say that Tennessee Tech's two softball wins on Friday over Tennessee State couldn't have come at a better time.
But for head coach Bonnie Bynum Graham, it just vindicated what she's been seeing from her team all season long as the Golden Eagles run-ruled the Tigers 8-0 in five innings in the first game, then took a 3-1 victory in the second.
"We've been playing well," Graham said, "but we just haven't gotten the timely hits like we needed in the last few games and we finally did that today."
With the seven-game losing streak snapped, Tech (11-23, 2-6 Ohio Valley Conference) can start to build some momentum toward the league race.
And Tech had several pieces that came together at just the right time. One of the biggest ones was getting game one starter Taylor Waldrop back for her first OVC contest of the season. She pitched a gem, yielding four hits in the five-inning affair, striking out three.
"She's pretty much been our go-to pitcher all year, so it just helped us set a tone for the day to see her out there," Graham said. "She pitched really well today."
In addition to Waldrop's shutout win, it was the effort of Taylor Thomas at the plate, Kayla Hughes in the circle for game two and the combined defensive skills from the infielders as Gabby LaSala, Sydney Love-Baker, Callen Griffin and Hallie Davis as they made big plays.
"Syd's been doing a great job for us at shortstop," Graham said. "She's just a freshman, but she hasn't been playing like it. Gabby made some great plays. Our defense is a big part of why our pitchers did so well, that's for sure."
Thomas ended the first game going 2-for-3 with two RBI, then added another 2-for-3 effort in game two with all three RBI in the nightcap. She hit the game-winning home run with a two-run blast in the bottom of the sixth.
"It was an inside fastball," Thomas said. "You usually don't see a lot of inside pitches, especially as a power hitter, because you're not going to see your favorite pitches as they try to pitch around you. (TSU's Lauren Powell) had been throwing well the entire game, but she got it inside and I just reacted to it."
And Coach Graham knows how dangerous Thomas can be in the lineup.
"Taylor can hit it well," Graham said. "We've been trying to get her in the mindset that she's a power hitter, but it shouldn't be all or nothing. When she connects with the ball, it's going to go. We just need her to stay smooth and see the ball. That's what she did, because a lot of her hits weren't just rips off the fence. She was putting the bat on the ball and ended up successful."
The freshman designated player knew exactly what her job was.
"I'm just trying to move the players around in scoring positions," Thomas said. "I want to be that freshman that can step up and put our team in the best situation as I can."
Hughes was locked in a pitchers' duel with TSU's Powell in a game that was knotted at one until Thomas hit her homer. Hughes went the distance, allowing one run – a solo home run for Maddison Clark – on five hits, walking two and striking out four.
"I know it was a tough battle," Hughes said, "but I have such a great defense behind me. So I knew I just needed to throw my pitches."
And that was some defensive effort as State put well-hit balls down in the infield, but Tech's fielders were able to make some spectacular plays. One notable example was a ball LaSala was able to bat down, then Love-Baker made a long throw in time to retire the batter.
"Those were some tremendous plays," the sophomore hurler said. "I wasn't worried. If it got in front of them, they were making the play all day long."
While Thomas' five RBIs, including all three in game two, led Tech, the Golden Eagles also got two RBI from Bayli Cruse in game one, while Davis and LaSala also drove in runs in the shortened contest.
The important thing for the Golden Eagles is that the series sweep is a nice momentum boost as they try to climb up the conference ranks, especially with a visit from Belmont on Sunday.
"They're always a challenging opponent and it is a nice momentum builder," Graham said. "I'm just super proud of the way we fought today."
First pitch in the two-game set on Sunday is set for 12 p.m.