Softball struggles, drops five of six nonconference games

The 17th-ranked Tech softball team competed in the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla. this past weekend. On the first days of the classic, the Jackets dropped two games to DePaul and No. 9 Tennessee. Tech lost to the DePaul Blue Demons in a 4-2 game. Later that day, the 9th-ranked Volunteers handed the Jackets a 9-0 loss for their first shutout of the season.

In the first two innings of the first game, there was minimal action from both teams apart from a first-inning error by the Jackets. In the third inning, the Blue Demons were the first to get a run.

DePaul’s Ciezki sent a line drive straight to senior Danielle Dike, who mishandled the ball allowing Ciezki to get to first base. Taking advantage of the error, the Blue Demons batted a single to right field, a double to left field and a single up center field, to lead the Jackets 4-0. DePaul did not score for the remainder of the game.

In response, Tech got its first run in the bottom of the third inning. After reaching first base on a DePaul walk, sophomore Ashley Thomas moved to second on a stolen base due to a DePaul error. Thomas advanced to third base from a groundout to the shortstop by senior Kate Kuzma and crossed home plate on an illegal pitch by the Blue Demons, setting the score to 4-1.

Tech kept the momentum in the bottom of the fifth, putting up another run when freshman Chelsie Thomas got on first base on a walk, stole second base from a bunt by sophomore Hayley Downs and went to home plate on a chopper to first base by Ashley Thomas. This was the last time that Tech scored, ending with a 4-2 loss to DePaul.

Later that day, the Jackets faced No. 9 Tennessee in the second game of their doubleheader. Off of a couple of bunt hits, the Volunteers were the first to strike in the top of the third inning. With two runners on base, a sacrifice bunt allowed each of the runners to advance one base, allowing Tennessee to gain a 1-0 advantage. A hit to the left field that got by Ashley Thomas allowed another Volunteer to score and give Tennessee a 2-0 advantage.

In the fifth inning, the Volunteers added to their lead when a batter sent a shot out to centerfield. After a Tech pitching change, freshman Karly Fullem went to the mound for the first time this year.

Fullem began with a walk, but made solid pitches afterwards; however, a few illegal pitches led to a single out into left field, which began a Tennessee scoring run. The Volunteers scored four times on four hits during the sixth inning to further push open their lead over Tech to 7-0.

Tennessee would go on to score two more runs in the seventh inning to finish off the Jackets 9-0. Tech would only get four hits compared to the Volunteers’ 15 hits.

Day two of the NFCA Leadoff Classic was not much better for the Jackets. Tech faced Massachusetts in what was a pitcher’s battle and later competed against Mississippi State, losing 1-0 and 5-3, respectively. With the losses, the Jackets dropped to a 0-4 record on the weekend.

In the first inning against Massachusetts, freshman Kylie Kleinschmidt had a tough start with two walks, a hit by pitch and a wild pitch that allowed the Minutemen to score a run. This put Massachusetts up 1-0, which was all they needed to finish with the win.

Kleinschmidt had 6.1 innings of no hits, which was broken up by Massachusetts’s Diaz-Patterson’s single to the left. Kleinschmidt was strong on the mound with her first career start, recording nine strikeouts, the most of any Tech pitcher this season.

In the second game of the day, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were the first to strike in the game. With the bases loaded in the first inning, a Mississippi State single up the middle led to the first run. Tech senior Caroline Hilton mishandled a ball that allowed a Bulldog to run across home plate for a 2-0 Mississippi State lead.

Tech responded in the bottom of the third inning. Ashley Thomas hit a single up the middle and stole second base on the next pitch. Kuzma hit a single up the middle that allowed Thomas to pick up a run for Tech, setting the score at 2-1.

The Bulldogs drove in another two runs to gain a 4-1 lead in the top of the sixth inning. In the bottom of the inning, Ashley Thomas hit another single up the middle and stole second base. On a sacrifice bunt by Kuzma, Ashley Thomas moved to third base and ran across home plate on a groundout to the shortstop by junior pitcher Hope Rush, putting the score at 4-2.

Mississippi State got another run in the top of the seventh inning from a suicide squeeze play, scoring its fifth run.

To begin the seventh inning, freshman Katie Johnsky was walked and moved to second base after a pitch hit Dike. Johnsky stole third and scored a run after a throwing error by the Bulldogs’ second baseman, bringing the score to 5-3. This score would stand for the game.

Rush gave up five runs, four earned, on seven hits, while Ashley Thomas was two for three in the game, tallying two of Tech’s three runs.

On the final day of the Classic, Rudnik’s two for four effort led the Jackets to a 6-0 shutout victory over the Illinois State Redbirds. Rudnik’s hits, both doubles, drove in a couple of runners.

Rush was superb on both the mound and home plate. She pitched seven innings, allowing only two hits and striking out a season-high six batters. Rush went one for three at bat with a double to left field and a walk with the bases loaded.

At the top of the fifth inning, the Jackets were the first to score a run. Johnsky, who was walked, was replaced on the bases by sophomore Kaitlin Kates. On a sacrifice bunt by Dike, Kates moved to second base.

Fullem’s single to centerfield put her on first base and Kates on third base. Fullem was replaced on the bases by sophomore Hayley Downs.

Hilton drove a hard ball to second base to allow Kates score the first Jacket run for a 1-0 Tech lead. Chelsie Thomas was walked to load the bases and Ashley Thomas hit a choppy single, allowing Downs to cross home plate for the 2-0 lead.

In the sixth inning, the Jackets continued their momentum. Rush hit a strong ball to left center field for a double. Freshman Caitlin Coffey replaced Rush on the bases, and moved to third base on Rudnik’s deep fly ball to right field.

On a heads up play, Coffey slid in for Tech’s third run of the game on a wild pitch by Illinois State’s pitcher, giving the Jackets a 3-0 advantage.

At the top of the seventh inning, the Tech batters came alive. Hilton started things off with a hit on the first pitch of the inning. Then, Chelsie Thomas and Ashley Thomas beat out their sacrifice bunts, which loaded the bases with no outs.

A walk sent Rush to first base and brought Hilton in for the fourth run of the game for the Jackets. Rudnik hit a deep fly ball all the way to the right field fence, allowing Chelsie Thomas and Ashley Thomas to cross home plate for the Tech 6-0 victory.

On Wednesday, Feb. 29, the No. 25th-ranked Jackets then traveled to Panthersville, Ga. to face off against the Georgia State Panthers. A Georgia State homerun in the bottom of the sixth inning gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead over Tech that eventually won it for Georgia State.

The Jackets had won the last ten meetings between the two teams, giving the Panthers their first victory over the Jackets since 2008.

In the top of the fifth inning, the Jackets were the first to score when Ashley Thomas beat out a single, stole second base and moved to third base from a groundout to second base by Downs. Thomas scored on Rudnick’s straight liner that was mishandled by Georgia State’s shortstop, giving Tech a 1-0 lead.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Kleinschmidt gave up a double that led to a run for Georgia State to tie the game 1-1. In the bottom of the sixth inning, a Panther runner hit a homerun over the left field wall to give Georgia State the 2-1 victory.

Kleinschmidt had a no-hitter for four innings, ultimately allowing two runs on three Georgia State hits. She had a strikeout in every inning except for the fifth inning, amassing seven strikeouts throughout the game.

The Jackets return to action to host the Winthrop Eagles this Friday, March 2, in Woodstock, Ga., for the Buzz Classic. The Jackets will also compete against Western Kentucky, Tennessee-Martin, Southeastern Louisiana and Elon, playing fives games over three days.