Softball takes charge early, wins six of seven

The Tech softball team began its 2012 campaign last week at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., hosted by the defending National Champions, Arizona State. The Jackets, who began the season ranked No. 23, played five games over a three-day period, including two games against ranked opponents. They won both games of a doubleheader on Friday, Feb. 10, over Oregon State 9-8 and No. 8 Arizona 2-1. Then they split their Saturday doubleheader, besting Cal Poly 8-5 but falling to San Diego State 3-2. Finally, the Jackets took a victory on Sunday, Feb. 12, as they beat No. 20 Nebraska 6-5.

The softball team’s home opener then arrived on Wednesday, Feb. 15, in the form of a doubleheader against Furman. The Jackets made quick work of the Paladins, winning both games on the day 4-2 and 8-2.

The Jackets experienced an offensive explosion in their season opener against Oregon State. Tech scored six runs in the second inning and also scored in each of the last three innings to hold off the Beavers. The second inning began with two singles and a hit batsman to load the bases, followed by a pinch-hit grand slam by senior Shannon Bear to put the Jackets ahead, 4-2.

It was the first grand slam of Bear’s career and gave the Jackets a lead that they would not relinquish. Sophomore Ashley Thomas, junior Hope Rush, and senior Kate Kuzma each had two hits in the game, while Bear and senior Kelsi Weseman had multiple RBIs off of home runs. Sophomore Lindsay Anderson recorded the victory in the circle, striking out five batters in six innings of work and surrendering six earned runs on ten hits while also walking three. Rush entered the game in the seventh to earn the third save of her career.

The second game of the Friday doubleheader saw the Jackets face off in a pitcher’s duel against No. 8 Arizona and upset the Wildcats 2-1. Rush started this game after closing out the last one and pitched a superb game, going all seven innings while giving up only one run on five hits.

That one run came in the first inning, when a walked batter stole second and then scored on a single to center field. Rush was lights-out after that, not allowing a run or even an extra-base hit in any of the remaining six innings. Tech’s two runs came in the third inning, starting with freshman Chelsie Thomas’s hustle to first for an infield single. Sophomore Hayley Downs made it on base on a fielder’s choice, and the two runners moved to second and third on a passed ball. Sophomore Alysha Rudnik batted them home with a single, and it proved to be enough for the Jackets to earn the win.

Tech’s string of success continued on Saturday, Feb. 11, as they defeated Cal Poly 8-5 to start the season 3-0. Anderson got the start again for the Jackets, pitching seven full innings and giving up two runs on six hits while striking out three. She had a no-hitter going through four innings before being replaced by freshman Kylie Kleinschmidt with the Jackets up 8-0. But Kleinschmidt gave up three runs without recording an out, provoking Anderson’s return.

Offensively, senior Danielle Dike started the scoring for Tech in the second inning, doubling to left-center and driving home two runs. The next batter, Ashley Thomas, cleared the bases with a three-run homer to left field and gave the Jackets a 5-0 lead. Weseman scored the eventual game winner in the third off of a Katie Johnsky single. Also for Tech, Alysha Rudnik went three-for-three, scoring two runs and batting in another.

The Jackets were handed their first loss of the season in the Saturday nightcap, falling to San Diego State 3-2. Hope Rush once again got the nod at pitcher and picked up the loss, striking out five batters and allowing three earned runs on six hits in six innings. San Diego State took an early two-run lead in the first inning off of a double and a homer, and it would be four more innings before Tech could respond in the top of the fifth.

That inning saw Kate Kuzma score off of an Ashley Thomas infield single. But SDSU quickly answered that score with a run of their own in the bottom half of the frame. Tech got another run in the top of the sixth when Alysha Rudnik scored off a Shannon Bear hit, but went down one-two-three in the seventh to close out the game.

On Sunday, the Jackets earned a walk-off victory against No. 20 Nebraska to conclude the weekend in Arizona and start the season 4-1.  Tech was down by three runs entering the bottom of the sixth but came back to score two unearned runs in each of the final two innings to win 6-5.

The Jackets then returned home on Wednesday, Feb. 15, for their double header against Furman.

Rush pitched a full game for the Jackets in the first game, allowing two runs on seven hits while striking out six Furman batters. She did not allow a run in the first six innings of the game before surrendering a two-run homer in the seventh. Offensively, the Jackets started slowly, but things picked up in the third when Weseman hit a three-run home run, bringing home Downs and Thomas. Tech added an insurance run in the sixth, when Bear doubled to score Rudnik.

The second game of the double header starter with a quick Tech lead. After three outs in the top of the first by Furman, Tech came out swinging for the fences, hitting three home runs to go up 5-0.

After a Rudnik walk, Bear knocked one over the left field scoreboard to put Tech up 4-0. The very next batter, Rush, hit a solo shot to left center to cap off an explosive first inning for the Jackets. Anderson pitched six innings and struck out seven, and Kleinschmidt entered the game in the seventh to earn the save.

The Jackets return to action this weekend when they head to the ACC/SEC/Big 12 Challenge in Auburn, Ala.