Softball win streak ends, positives still abound

Photo courtesy of GTAA

Through the past several weeks, the Jackets softball program recorded their second-longest win-streak of 15 games. Along with the longest undefeated homestand in program history, they also swept two Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) opponents in their dominant stretch. Looking to continue this streak, the  Jackets traveled to play the No. 5 ranked University of Georgia Bulldogs before hosting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for an ACC series. They then went down to South Carolina to play the  Charleston Southern University (CSU) Buccaneers and the Coastal Carolina University (CCU) Chanticleers. Finally, they capped the roadtrip off with another ACC series against the University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels. 

Clean, old-fashioned hate burned between the Jackets and the Bulldogs throughout the game as Georgia sought to end Tech’s winning streak. The Bulldogs put up a strong defensive outing and their bats came out firing. A three-run first inning put Georgia up 3-0 after a pair of homers hit off fifth-year right-handed pitcher (RHP) Blake Neleman. Unfortunately the Jackets’ bats struggled, posting three scoreless innings and ending the third inning with a double play. 

The Bulldogs offense added another two runs in the fifth and another run in the sixth to put Tech in a 6-0 hole. The Jackets bats finally showed some life — junior center-fielder Ella Edgmon and senior designated player Sara Beth Allen were scored by a double to left field by senior third-baseman Mallorie Black. Black scored off senior first-baseman Abby Hughes’ short-fly to right field, but Georgia got the final out and the Jackets fell, 3-6. 

The Jackets’ series against the Fighting Irish began with an impressive comeback on March 15. Despite jumping to a 3-0 lead by the second inning, a three-run Notre Dame homer tied the game in the third. The Irish sent another two runs home in the sixth. Tech loaded the bases in response, but was unable to collect a run. 

The seventh saw a different story. Junior first-baseman Emma Minghini had an incredible game at the plate — she knocked two homers deep, accrued three runs batted in (RBIs) and collected two walks.  Her  second homer came in the seventh after a two-run shot by junior left-fielder Madison Dobbins and a 2-2 count. Minghini felt no pressure as she knocked a walkoff two-run homer to give Tech the win 7-5.

Tech struggled throughout the rest of the Notre Dame series. Locked in a 1-0 battle for much of the second game, sophomore catcher Reese Hunter blasted a three-run home-run in the sixth inning to give the Jackets a 3-1 lead. The Irish retaliated with a five-run seventh inning and shut down the Jackets’ bats in the clutch, holding Tech scoreless for the  3-6 loss.

The third game of the series on March 17 saw a similar script. Tech took an early 2-0 lead in the first off a two-run homer by Black. The Irish then came roaring back to score four runs in the fourth inning off a double and pair of singles.

The Jackets responded in the fifth with another 3-RBI home-run by Black  to retake the lead at 5-4. However, a two-RBI single by Notre Dame sealed the 6-5 loss — and the series loss. The Jackets met the CSU Buccaneers on March 19 and won the game off a dominant fifth inning. While the Buccaneers collected single runs in the first, second and fourth inning, their defense kept Tech’s bats at bay for the first four innings.  Down  three runs in the fifth, the Jackets loaded the bases with their leadoff batters before graduate student second-baseman Tiffany Domingue was hit by a pitch. This automatically sent Edgmon to score before Minghini hit an RBI groundout. 

Sophomore right-fielder Paige Vukadinovich completed the torrid inning by scoring  Allen and Domingue. Fifth-year RHP Chandler Dennis won the game in the circle by holding the Buccaneers scoreless for the final three innings as the Jackets won 4-3.Tech then faced the CCU Chanticleers on March 20 where Neleman silenced the Chanticleers and their bats with a complete game, allowing only two seventh-inning runs. The Jackets used this momentum to power the offense forward — a two-run first inning was followed by a Hunter solo-homer in the third. Dobbins stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and knocked her third grand slam of the season. The 7-2 win was sealed after sophomore pinch hitter Jayden Gailey knocked a two-run homer in the seventh. 

Looking to further improve their ACC record, the Jackets took the field in a three-game series against the UNC Tar Heels. Dennis pitched the full six innings of play, but Tech’s defense was unable to stop four and five run innings from UNCs’ bats in the first and sixth innings, respectively. The Jackets struggled to respond, scoring one in the second and two on an Allen homer in the third inning before falling 9-3.

The Jackets retaliated in the second game with a unique two-run second inning. Two walks and two hit-by-pitches put Tech in position to score off a fielders’ choice and a sacrifice fly. Domingue blasted a solo homer to clinch the win, but the Jackets added another three insurance runs in the fourth and fifth to increase the lead. Although UNC scored a pair of runs in the third and fifth, Tech took the game 6-2.

Taking a two-run lead in the third inning could not seal the final game of the series for Tech. After a three-run homer by UNC in the fourth, UNC’s offense caught fire to score two runs in the fifth and sixth while holding the Jackets scoreless for the remainder of the game in a 7-2 loss.

The Jackets look to bounce back on their roadtrip against another ACC opponent, the Syracuse University Orange, this weekend. The Orange have struggled against the ACC this season, going 2-7 in the conference. Therefore, this is an excellent get-right opportunity for the Jackets’ bats to regain their form and rebound after struggles in the last game of the UNC series.