Womens’ softball undefeated in I-75 Challenge

Junior third baseman Mallorie Black communicates with the rest of the infield during an impressive, undefeated I-75 tournament. weekend in their six games. // Photo courtesy of GTAA

Coming off a commanding 9-4 win against the local Georgia State University (GSU) Panthers, the Jackets looked to build some momentum with a strong showing in the I-75 Challenge. Since 2017, the tournament puts the Jackets up against three teams in a six-game showcase testing the team’s mettle. Fortunately, they showed out by winning six straight against the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) Spartans, Army Black Knights, Robert Morris Colonials, UNCG again and a double-header against the Ball State Cardinals. 

Sophomore pitcher Jaidyn Studebaker got the ball for the weekend’s opening game against UNCG on Friday, Feb. 23 and gave the Jackets three innings of solid work. She had an especially nice 1-2-3 sequence at the top of the first, but got tagged for one run in the second and five runs in the third. Tech’s bats also struggled through the first three innings, giving no run support and failing to make a dent in the 6-0 lead. Fortunately, Tech found itself in the fourth inning. 

Junior pitcher Sophia Voyles came in to relieve Studebaker and quieted the UNCG bats across the next four innings, throwing seven strikeouts and yielding only one run on three hits. 

The Jackets’ offense responded in kind — the infield trio of graduate student Tiffany Domingue, sophomore Paige Vukadinovich and senior Jin Sileo hit three straight singles before junior leadoff hitter and center fielder Ella Edgmon sent Domingue home with a solo runs-batted-in (RBI) single. 

Facing Tech senior catcher Sara Beth Allen, the pitch got away from UNCG sophomore pitcher Rhyann Jones and hit Allen. As a result, Tech scored two easy runs on Allen’s bases-loaded walk and a subsequent walk forced by senior third baseman Mallorie Black. Junior utility Madison Dobbins capped off the dominant seven-run inning capped off with a huge, three-RBI blast deep into Mewborn Field. The Jackets’ lineup followed up their impressive fourth inning with a second-straight seven-run inning. In only two innings, they collected 14 runs after Allen, Black, Dobbins and sophomore infielder Jayden Gailey all sent runs across the plate regardless of who UNCG put on the mound. Tech’s dominant showing against the Spartans ended in a 14-7 rout. 

In their second Friday game, Tech handily won their joust with the Black Knights in only five innings by a score of 13-2. Fifth-year pitcher Chandler Dennis started on the mound for Tech and in the sixteen batters Dennis saw, she only walked two while throwing four strikeouts and keeping the Black Knights
hitless through three innings. 

Army only got one hit off of Dennis, but it proved to be irrelevant after Tech’s lineup racked up 13 runs across only four innings. Sophomore pitcher Amanda Eaglin hit Edgmon with her opening pitch. Allen immediately sent her home with a 2-RBI blast, giving Tech a 2-0 lead in as many batters. Black and Domingue hit a double and triple in back-to-back appearances to stretch the lead to three. After an uneventful second inning, Domingue gave Tech even more insurance with a three-RBI homer in the third. Army scored a run to make the deficit 6-1, but Dennis put a stop to their momentum and turned the game over to the Jackets’ lineup. They came through with their third seven-run inning of the weekend. Outfielder Gracie Hillman got her first career hit, and Allen drove her in for her second home-run on the day. It kicked off a streak of six different batters reaching home for Tech in an offensive masterclass. Junior Emma Minghini then shut the door on Army, recording her first career punchout and the win at the top of the fifth inning.

On Saturday, Tech shut down the bats of the Robert Morris Colonials in a 9-1 blowout that only went six innings. Continuing a strong stretch of Tech pitching, Jackets junior pitcher Kinsey Norton retired six of the first seven batters she faced, only giving up one solo home run across her four innings of work. She did a great job of forcing weak contact from the Colonials’ bats and kept Robert Morris from matching Tech’s four runs scored in the third innings. Vukadinovich kept moving on the basepaths after a Sileo single and Edgmon sacrifice bunt. The Colonials’ catcher, junior Logan Black, could not hold onto the ball and gave Vukadinovich the chance to score. Black then blasted a three-run bomb deep into left field to give Tech a 4-1 lead in the third. 

Tech head coach Aileen Morales decided to let Norton rest and put Dennis in to work out of a runner on first. She kept the frame clean and held the Colonials to zero runs in her two innings. A three-run fifth inning and two-run sixth inning gave the Jackets an eight-run lead and the win. 

UNCG returned for round two against the Jackets, playing them much closer in the second contest. However, the Spartans did not have enough firepower to overcome a dominant performance from fifth-year pitcher Blake Neleman. She pitched a complete game across all seven innings of the game, only giving up two runs and four hits against eight strikeouts. Neleman received excellent run support from the rest of the Tech lineup. 

After she gave up a run in both the third and fourth inning, the Tech bats responded with a Domingue sacrifice fly to retake a 2-1 lead and two-RBI home run from Allen to secure a 4-2 lead respectively. Domingue and Edgmon tacked on insurance runs in the fifth inning, but the real game-clincher came by way of Neleman. She caught the game-clinching out in her glove after inducing weak contact off the Spartans’ batter and secured the 6-2 win. 

On Sunday, the last day of the tournament, the Jackets faced off against the Ball State Cardinals in a double-header. These were the Jackets’ toughest games of the tournament as they narrowly beat the Cardinals by a score of 6-4 in both contests. Voyles took the ball in game one and ran into some trouble early after Ball State tagged her for three runs in the first two innings. Fortunately, Voyles shook off her rough start and kept the game in reach by keeping the Cardinals off the board in the third and fourth innings. 

Edgmon, Allen and Domingue hit three straight singles before Dobbins launched a 2-RBI double to give Tech some life. 

Ball State added another run to tie the game before Black sent a three-run homer deep over the fence to give the Jackets the 5-3 lead. She then hit another insurance run in the sixth inning while Norton came in and held the Cardinals to only one more run across three innings, giving the Jackets their first win. Neleman got the start in Game 2, but showed some signs of fatigue by yielding a run in the first inning. Fortunately for Tech, Neleman was able to turn over the rest of the batters. 

After two successful steal attempts from Sileo, Edgmon then bunted to get Sileo across for the score. Neleman kept the game in hand until the fourth — this allowed Allen to send Edgmon home with yet another home run and give Tech the lead. Tech broke the game open in the sixth due to a two-RBI base hit from Dobbins and a single from junior Bailey Chapin to preserve Tech’s lead, 6-1. Even though Ball State scored three in the seventh inning, it was not enough to spoil Tech’s 6-4 victory. 

The Jackets will look to extend their win streak to eight against the Mercer Bears on Feb. 28 before playing the Pittsburgh Panthers in a weekend series at home.