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USI outlasts Golden Eagles in 10-inning marathon

USI outlasts Golden Eagles in 10-inning marathon

By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information

PEORIA, Ill. – Only one team is going to end the season with a victory. That's one of the ironclad truths of athletics. It's also never easy to see the campaign end with a loss, especially in a hard-fought battle like the one Tennessee Tech had Thursday night against Southern Indiana.

And the Golden Eagles fought to the very last pitch. As the Screaming Eagles put a run on the board, Tech countered. When the Golden Eagles pulled ahead, USI found a way. Neither team wanted to see their season come to an abrupt stop, but, unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast.

Over the span of three-and-a-half hours – long even in softball circles – and 10 innings, Southern Indiana extended its season for at least one more day, breaking a 9-9 tie as Lexi Fair picked up her second RBI double of the game, driving in Kennedy Nalley for the go-ahead run.

Even as the game entered the home half of the 10th with one last chance for the Golden Eagles, Tech still tried to pull something together as S.J. Talley and Mac Fitzgerald reached on errors, but the Screaming Eagles were there to collect the final strikes to the outfield and end Tech's season.

Southern Indiana won the game 10-9 in 10 innings, finalizing the Golden Eagles' year at 23-24. It marks a 17-game turnaround for a Tech program that won just six games a season ago. A proof of concept of just what Danielle Penner's Golden Eagles can do, it's a solid foundation for the future.

Emily York will play a big role in that and she was a major force for Tech in the game. Coming on in relief after USI responded for five runs in the top of the third, York tossed eight complete innings, yielding four runs – two earned – on seven hits. She walked three and struck out seven. While she took the loss to finish the season with a 8-5 record, York kept the Golden Eagles fighting to the end.

Tech tried to get on the scoreboard early. Mac Fitzgerald led off the bottom of the first with a single up the middle, then stole second and third for the first two of her four stolen bases on the night – finishing her season with 41, the third-most in a single season in program history, and 87 in her career to stand third all-time in program career history.

Fitzgerald stood primed to go if the opportunity arose. When Abby Shoulders hit a deep fly ball to right field, Fitzgerald bolted. On the catch by Kate Satkoski, the ball was lasered back to the plate and catcher Sammie Kihega, who turned the tag into a sliding Fitzgerald to end the threat.

Instead, it was USI that scored first on a Mackenzie Bedrick grounder to second.

Tech did dent the dish in the bottom of the second. With two down and Talley standing on first, Olivia Evans put the Golden Eagles on the board with a ball into left field that became an error. Talley took off and scored, while Evans ended up on third. Fitzgerald was walked on four straight pitches, then jaunted to second without a throw. Shoulders also took a walk on five pitches to load the bases for Carmen Betts.

The All-OVC first teamer took a ball, fouled off the next pitch, then watched the next two. She liked the fifth pitch, launching it over the center field wall for a grand slam to give the Golden Eagles a 5-1 lead.

USI answered with a five-run frame of its own with a Satkoski RBI double, a bases-loaded walk to Sydney Long, then a Josie Newman three-run double. Suddenly the Screaming Eagles were back on top 6-5.

That advantage proved to be short-lived. Fitzgerald put the Golden Eagles back on top as she put a triple into left center, driving in Key, Talley and Evans. And just as sudden, Tech was back up 8-6.

After the fourth and fifth innings fell silent, USI knotted the score in the top of the sixth as Kihega doubled to right. Tech stepped back out in front as Betts collected a sacrifice fly to right, driving in Fitzgerald. Betts finished the season with 48 RBI – the fourth-most in a single season in Tech program history.

So Tech, at that point, just needed three outs to end the game and advance. York coaxed a grounder for the first out. Bedrick hit a bunt single to the third base side and reached. After USI hit a fly ball to center field for the second out, Fair hit a ball to left and it landed hitting along the line, allowing Bedrick enough room to score and tie the game at nine runs each.

The innings continued to tick away as nothing came through in the bottom of the seventh to send the game to extras. USI saw Fitzgerald end a threat in the top of the eighth with a 4-3 double play, but the Screaming Eagles returned the favor in the home half, erasing a potential walk-off play as Hailey Gotshall threw home to Kihega to erase a scrambling Shoulders. Kihega appeared to block the plate, prompting a review for obstruction, but the umpires ruled the call stood to end the inning.

Neither team broke through in the ninth, but Fair's second RBI double of the game in the 10th inning was the deciding factor.

Newman, who came on in relief as USI's third pitcher in the contest, picked up the victory to improve to 20-9 on the season. She allowed just one unearned run on two hits, walking two and striking out two. Tech, despite scoring nine runs, only had five hits in the contest as the Golden Eagles worked the counts for seven walks and two hit batters to get base runners.

USI (24-21) advances to the consolation bracket contest Friday morning at 11 a.m. against Tennessee State. The winner will play the loser of the Eastern Illinois-Southeast Missouri contest at 4 p.m. with the victor of that game returning to Saturday's championship matchup.

Photo | Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information

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