SOFTBALL: Sun Belt starts rough for Tops

Amber North

After splitting a doubleheader against Tennessee State at home last Thursday, the Western softball team traveled to Murfreesboro, Tenn., last weekend for a fresh start.

Western kicked off its Sun Belt conference schedule against Middle Tennessee with two doubleheaders over the weekend. It wasn’t a pretty opener against the Lady Raiders as the Hilltoppers only came home with one win over the four games.

“Naturally, I’m disappointed because I thought we would come away with more than one win in the series,” head coach Leslie Phelan said.

Western had an early 2-0 lead in the first of its two games Saturday. The lead was short-lived when the Lady Raiders (20-15, 3-5 Sun Belt) came back to beat the Hilltoppers 3-2, as Middle Tennessee’s Dani DeCamino scored off a throwing error by sophomore outfielder Renita Pennington.

In the second game of the day, the Hilltoppers found their bats’ sweet spots, having a game high 10 hits. Western went on to win the game 6-3 with the help of sophomore third baseman Dana Rey, who tied a career high with three hits.

“It was a great feeling and there has been a lot of improvement to my swing,” Rey said.

Things would get more difficult for the Hilltoppers the following day.

The Lady Raiders started the game off with five hits as well as five runs in the first inning.

“You have to give them credit because they did hit the ball off of good pitches,” Phelan said. “Sometimes we missed the pitches, and sometimes we made mistakes on defense.”

Middle Tennessee’s lead was cut to 6-2 as junior outfielder/catcher Riley Garcia scored off of a throwing error by Lady Raider Cortney Mitchell and Pennington scored off a wild pitch from Middle Tennessee starter Stacy Preator.

But the Lady Raiders were too much for the Hilltoppers as they scored four more runs to cement their 10-2 victory.

Middle Tennessee continued to overpower Western into the second game. The Hilltoppers allowed 13 hits in the game, the second most allowed this season.

DeCamino opened the second inning with a solo home run, giving the Lady Raiders a 1-0 lead. The Hilltoppers would take over the lead in the top of the third as sophomore second baseman/outfielder Shelly Floyd hit a two-run double, making it 2-1.

Middle Tennessee would tie the game in the bottom of the fourth, but Floyd’s hard-hitting was tough to contain as she batted in two runs. Floyd has a total of 37 RBIs, which broke the single-season mark held by Sara Alan?s, who had 35 in 2000.

“I didn’t know I broke it (the school record) until I got home, but it felt good,” Floyd said, smiling. “I’m still not happy because I always like to hit better.”

Floyd’s four RBIs and Garcia hitting 4-4 at the plate was not enough for Western as the Lady Raiders tied the game in the bottom of the sixth. The game extended to eight innings and Mitchell hit a game-winning single to lead the Lady Raiders to their third victory of the four meetings.

Western’s 3-2 loss on Saturday and 5-4 loss on Sunday gave the team its ninth and tenth one-run losses of the season, 3-10 overall. In both games, MTSU came from behind to win, while the Hilltoppers stranded six players in each game.

“What we need to do is take advantage of every opportunity we have to score so when we do make mistakes, it comes back to haunt us,” Phelan said. “MTSU took advantage of those opportunities more than we did.”

The Hilltoppers will try to shake off the weekend losses to take on Eastern Kentucky today at 1 p.m. in Richmond.

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