The Tech softball team finished off its most successful regular season in school history, won 49 games and was crowned ACC champions for the second straight year. By virtue of its success, Tech finished the regular season ranked No. 8 in the nation and hosted a portion of the NCAA tournament at Mewborn Field on May 21-23.
After Oregon defeated Auburn in Friday’s first game, Tech played fourth seeded Jacksonville State in the day’s second game. JSU out hit the Jackets, but Tech won the game 5-3.
Tech took advantage of its chances in the bottom of the first inning after the first two hitters walked. Junior first baseman Kristine Priebe singled to center field, scoring redshirt senior second baseman Jen Yee from second. Freshman designated player Hope Rush followed Priebe by striking out, but the catcher dropped the ball on strike three. The JSU catcher threw out Rush at first, but sophomore catcher Kate Kuzma took advantage and scored from third.
Tech could not drive in any more runs in the inning and settled with a 2-0 lead after one.
Junior pitcher Kristen Adkins retired the side in order in the top of the second inning, and then transferred her success in the circle to the plate by homering to lead off the bottom of the inning.
JSU countered in the third inning when Adkins walked two batters to put a runner into scoring position with two outs. A single drove in JSU’s first run of the ball game, but Adkins got a groundout to minimize the damage.
After Tech failed to score in the bottom of the third, Adkins took the mound in the fourth inning and immediately surrendered a leadoff homer. Adkins gave up two more singles in the inning before she was pulled for sophomore pitcher Jessica Coan. Coan got Tech out of the jam and kept the lead intact at 3-2.
The Jackets got another run in the fourth inning when sophomore right fielder Shannon Bear took a 2-0 pitch deep to left center field for a solo homer.
After an uneventful fifth inning, JSU got another solo homer to lead off the sixth. A single later in the inning would end Coan’s day, and Head Coach Sharon Perkins turned to Rush. Rush got out of the inning with the only run coming via the homer.
Coan struck out two and only allowed two hits for her No. 14 win of the season.
“Today just felt like every other game. [Adkins] pitched a great game, and I just wanted to come in and help out her because I knew our offense would score more runs,” Coan said.
With two outs and only ahead by one run, Tech got a much needed insurance run when Yee hit a line-drive homer.
Rush finished off JSU in the top of the seventh inning for her second save of the season.
Only about twelve hours after its win, Tech played Oregon on Saturday afternoon. Tech was defeated 11-2 in only five innings.
Tech got off to a great start when Yee walked and Kuzma sacrifice bunted her to second base. Sophomore shortstop Kelsi Weseman doubled to deep center field to score Yee, and Rush drove Weseman home with a single.
With an early 2-0 lead, Rush started the game at pitcher for the Jackets and she did not have her best day. Rush ran into trouble in the first inning when the Ducks managed to load the bases and then cleared them with one swing.
Rush continued to struggle in the third. After a lead off double, Oregon got a walk to put two runners on base. Oregon got a timely RBI single followed by a double that scored two more.
Oregon scored three more runs in the fourth inning, and with the game on the line in the fifth, Tech could not muster a single hit.
Rush’s final line: eight earned runs on 12 hits and five walks in only four innings of work.
The next game on Saturday, May 22 was an elimination game between Auburn and JSU. Auburn won the game and earned the right to face the Jackets later that day.
Tech scored the first run of the game in the second inning when Rush drew a leadoff walk. Senior Kelly Eppinger came into the game to run for Rush, and the move worked as Eppinger scored later in the inning.
After another scoreless inning in the circle for Adkins, Tech added to its lead in the top of the third inning when Rush singled, scoring Yee from third base.
Adkins did not allow any runs going into the bottom half of the fourth, but there she ran into trouble. The first batter she faced homered. After a single later in the inning, Perkins took Adkins out in for Coan. Coan immediately gave up a walk but then recorded two strikeouts to end the inning.
Coan continued to pitch well into the later innings and eventually, her offense finally gave her some insurance. Yee hit a two-run homer to give Tech a three-run lead heading into the game’s final frame.
After a lead off walk, Coan retired the next three hitters in order, including a strikeout to win the game 4-1.
Tech’s victory meant that Auburn was eliminated, but it also meant that Tech would have to win two games against Oregon on Sunday to continue its season.
Rush started Sunday’s game against the Ducks and she threw the ball much better than she did on Saturday.
“Yesterday I thought I threw well, but we had a couple of things go their way. Today, I pitched better and our offense kept us in the game. Overall, I think we did well coming back from the last game,” Rush said after the game.
Rush struggled in the second inning when the lead off hitter hit a single and Rush proceeded to walk three straight batters, forcing in the first run of the game.
Tech got the run back in the third inning when Yee hit her a home run, No. 30 of the season.
Oregon responded in the top of the fourth inning by getting three straight hits including a triple to right field. The rally scored two runs and Oregon led 3-1.
After both sides had failed to score a run for three innings, Tech found themselves down two runs with its season on the line in the bottom of the seventh inning. Tech managed to get the first two runners on base for Yee. Yee had a rare groundout, but she did manage to move both runners into scoring position. Kuzma and Priebe both singled to tie the game at three.
Then, Oregon turned to its closer. She recorded two strikeouts to end the threat and force extra innings.
“They broke up our momentum well. Obviously, you can’t go down with two strikeouts like that, and we didn’t handle it well,” said Yee.
Oregon broke the tie in the eighth inning with a sacrifice fly and Tech went down in order to end the game and Tech’s season.