By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Taylor Waldrop found herself in an unusual situation during the beginning of the Ohio Valley Conference schedule.
Injured, the senior Tennessee Tech pitcher could only just sit back and watch as her teammates took tough defeats in the first three weekends of the league slate, coming back to Cookeville with an 0-6 record in OVC play.
That changed on Friday as Waldrop pitched her first career shutout over Tennessee State to give Tech its first league win, then again on Sunday as Waldrop held off Belmont on Sunday in a 3-0 victory, throwing her second straight shutout to increase her career total to the same number.
"It's a great feeling," Waldrop said, "especially coming off of that injury. It's been a little nerve-wracking as I came back after being the game one starter all year."
Waldrop had been the team's ace all season long, and to be put into the situation where all she could do was watch and cheer on her teammates was discouraging.
"It was tough," Waldrop said. "I've never dealt with an injury like that, never had any back problems ever in my life, so it was scary, but it was nice to be out for just a little bit and come back."
And what a comeback, Waldrop earned the victory on Friday in her first conference game of the season against the Tigers, then took the victory half of the split on Sunday.
"I told myself to trust my pitches," she said. "I've been doing this for a long time, so two weeks off? I wasn't worried. I knew I just needed to come back and do my thing. I know how to throw. Getting these first two wins in league play is huge because I know I have a great team behind me. They work their butts off the whole time. We're starting to get our momentum in the right way and I think it will carry us through the rest of the season."
Kayla Hughes tried to add a W in the back half, but a solo home run yielded in the top of the seventh saw Tech drop a 1-0 decision in the nightcap.
Either way, winning three out of four for the weekend is still a move in the right direction for the Golden Eagles, who improve to 12-24 overall, 3-7 in OVC play.
"Defensively and in the circle – just like on Friday – I couldn't be happier," said Tech coach Bonnie Bynum Graham. "Unfortunately our hitters didn't make the adjustments we needed to in game two. Not taking away from (Alicia Veltri), because she threw a great game, but we have to do a better job on the offensive side.
"Four wins would have been great, but we came out of here with good momentum in conference play, and that's what we told the players. We just have to keep building that momentum every single weekend. This weekend was a good start to that."
Tech narrowly avoided a no-hitter in the second contest, collecting its first hit in the sixth inning by pinch hitter Aminah Wood, then added a single in the seventh by Hallie Davis to try to encourage a late-inning rally.
However, Chelsea Thomas' home run in the top of the seventh was all that was needed to spoil Hughes' day, despite the sophomore throwing a fantastic effort for the Golden Eagles.
"It was just one pitch," Graham said, "but at the end of the day, when you face good hitters, that happens. If you don't score, it's really hard to win ball games."
Hughes took the tough-luck loss, allowing one run on six hits in the complete-game effort, striking out four Bruins along the way.
Her counterpart, Veltri, struck out nine Tech batters while yielding one walk and the two hits.
But the story of the weekend for Tech was Waldrop. Facing off with one of the rising stars in the league, Belmont's Brooklin Lee, Waldrop went toe-to-toe and kept the Bruins off-balance, holding one of the most explosive offenses in the OVC scoreless and with just five hits.
"Taylor has come back from her injury stronger than before," Graham said. "I think the time off was probably good for her, because she's been pitching lights-out."
Lee gave up six hits to the Golden Eagles, but just one of the three runs were earned in the contest – Sydney Love-Baker coming home from third on a wild pitch after reaching on a walk, moving over to second on a Jessie Lowery bunt and third on a Gabby LaSala grounder.
The other two runs scored in the fourth inning as Lee threw a wild pitch, allowing Hannah Richter to make a dash home. Catcher Haley Baker lobbed the ball to Lee to apply the tag, but the ball escaped from Lee, allowing Richter and Davis to score.
Up next for the Golden Eagles is a visit from Murray State on Saturday, a 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. doubleheader at the Tech Softball Field. Admission is free to the public.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information