Softball loses two of three at ACC/SEC/Big 12 Challenge

The 20th-ranked softball team headed to Auburn, Ala., this past weekend to participate in the ACC/SEC/Big 12 challenge on the campus of the Auburn Tigers. The Jackets split a pair of games in their Friday doubleheader, losing to No. 2 Alabama 12-9, but outlasting No. 4 Oklahoma 1-0 in a pitchers’ battle.

After inclement weather cancelled their Saturday matchup against No. 18 Oklahoma State, the Jackets returned to the field on Sunday and lost to host school Auburn, 12-5, to conclude the weekend.

The Friday loss to Alabama dropped Tech to 6-2 on the season, while the Crimson Tide remained a perfect 5-0.

Sophomore Lindsay Anderson pitched a complete game for the Jackets, but made some mistakes, including throwing a wild pitch that brought home a run as part of a five-run second inning for Alabama. Overall, she allowed eleven earned runs on thirteen hits, striking out four batters and walking eight.

After finding themselves down 6-2 through an inning and a half, Tech managed to come back in the third by scoring four runs off of four hits.

The highlight of the Jackets’ inning came from senior Danielle Dike, who, in a pinch-hitting role, doubled to left field and scored two. However, the Crimson Tide pulled away late in the game, hitting a two-run homer in the sixth and scoring three more runs in the seventh.

Tech tried to answer by putting two runs on the board in the bottom of the seventh, but it was not enough as Alabama’s 12 runs were too much for the Jackets to overcome.

The nine runs scored by the Jackets against Alabama matched their season high in a game despite the loss. The only other time the Jackets have hit nine runs was against Oregon State in the season opener.

The nightcap against Oklahoma was almost a polar opposite game for Tech, who upset the No. 4 Sooners 1-0 in a complete pitchers’ duel.

Junior Hope Rush was the star for the Jackets, pitching a complete game shutout and driving in the game’s only run. On the mound, Rush allowed just three hits and four walks while striking out seven batters.

Tech’s lone run came in the fourth inning, due in part to mistakes made by Oklahoma. Sophomore Ashley Thomas was hit by a pitch then reached second on a wild pitch to begin the inning. She reached third on a fielding error by the third baseman on a sacrifice bunt, then scored on a deep sacrifice fly to center field by Rush.

That one run was enough for Tech to win the game and hand Oklahoma its first loss of the season. The shutout victory was the first shutout the Jackets have posted in 2012 and was also the first shutout suffered by the Sooners this season.

Following an unexpected day off Saturday, the Jackets faced off against Auburn on Sunday afternoon and lost, 12-5.

Rush pitched her second game in a row on one day’s rest, but unlike the last game, she was not able to complete this one. Rush was pulled out of the game after allowing eight earned runs in 3.2 innings off of six hits.

Rush started out strong but soon became unable to finish an inning, as all eight runs she allowed came with two outs and earned her the loss.

The Jackets pulled ahead early on a two-run homer by senior Caroline Hilton at the top of the second that also scored Kuzma. But the lead shortly evaporated in the bottom of the inning when Rush hit a batter with the bases loaded to bring in a run, followed by a bases-clearing double by the Auburn centerfielder.

Dike regained the lead for Tech in the fourth, once again stepping up in the pinch-hitters’ role with a three-run homer to put the Jackets up 5-4. However, the Tigers did not give up, hitting through three Tech pitchers and scoring the final eight runs of the game to win 12-5.

The two losses and the win over the weekend left the Jackets with a 7-3 record overall.

The Jackets return to action on Friday, Feb. 24, when they participate in the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla. The Jackets will face off against DePaul, Tennessee, Massachussetts, Mississippi State and Illinois State when they play five games over a three day stretch.