sun sports editor
GREENEVILLE – The Tusculum softball team ranked dead last in the South Atlantic Conference in hitting last season. But offense hasn’t been a problem for the Lady Pioneers in 2013.
Tusculum showed off its plate prowess against visiting conference foe Lincoln Memorial Wednesday afternoon, belting out a total of 25 hits to roll to winning margins of 13-5 and 9-8 in a doubleheader at Red Edmonds Field.
The sweep kept the Lady Pioneers tied with Lenoir-Rhyne and Mars Hill atop the SAC standings with a 5-1 mark (17-12 overall). Lincoln Memorial drops to 3-5 in the league and 20-13 overall.
“One thing we’ve been working on and talking about is how you have to give it everything you have from the first pitch to the last,” Tusculum head coach Julie Huebner said.
“I thought the girls did a good job of that today. They are believing in each other more. We are getting those timely hits that we need and good things are happening. Of course, we would like to see it not get to that point where we make mistakes and get in a hole, but we can learn from this.”
Tusculum ended the afternoon with a flare for the dramatic, scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie game two at 8-8. Kaytlin Stroinski then drew a bases-loaded walk with one out in the eighth to score Miranda Beeler for the walk-off victory.
The furious rally in the seventh was highlighted by a two-run homer by former Cocke County High School standout Nicole Ball, which pulled the Lady Pioneers within 8-7.
“Nicole struggled early on but she has really turned it around as of late,” Huebner said. “She is making good adjustments at the plate, and she is making them quickly.”
Then Lindsey Umberger – with two outs and facing a 2-2 count – came through with a clutch double to left-center field to bring home Samantha Silver for the tying run.
The eighth inning went immediately to international tiebreaker rules, where each team starts its at-bat with a runner on second base.
Lincoln Memorial’s Laura Taricano quickly drew a free pass from Tusculum pitcher King to put runners on first and second with no outs. The Railsplitters’ momentum was short-lived, however, as King recorded three straight outs to escape the jam unscathed.
Huebner used three pitchers to pick up the victory. King started the game in the circle and allowed six runs through the first four innings before being relieved by Elizabeth Johnson.
Johnson cruised through the fifth inning, but had trouble finding the strike zone in the sixth. She allowed two runs on a hit and three walks in the frame as Lincoln Memorial increased its lead to 8-5.
Leah Powell came in to get the final two outs in the sixth, and King re-entered the game to close the final two innings and pick up the win.
“We’ve got some consistency issues that we have to work out (in the circle),” Huebner explained. “We did good with it last week for our spring break games, and I thought maybe we were over the hump.”
“We just have to do a better job of working ahead in the county and not pitching from behind. With that said, it’s beautiful that I have three kids that I can confidently put out there. It’s like having a pitching staff in baseball. Whoever is on is going to get the ball.”
The first inning of game two was a wild one as Lincoln Memorial scored two runs in its first at-bat, only to see the Lady Pioneers answer with a five-spot in the home half of the frame. Tusculum had six hits in the outburst, including doubles from Paige Sneed and Umberger, and a two-run single from Powell.
The Railsplitters scored three in the third and added another run in the fourth to take a 6-5 lead.
Game one of the doubleheader was just as wild.
Lincoln Memorial’s first at-bat seemed to be going harmlessly as Johnson quickly retired the first two batters. However, Amanda Snow got things going with a solo home run, and the Railsplitters proceeded to reel off five straight hits – including a two-run blast by Cierra Mudd – to take a 5-0 lead.
Not to be out-done, Tusculum exploded for eight runs in the bottom of the second. Stroinski and Ball highlighted the outburst as each connected for two-run doubles to left field.
Powell and Johnson combined to finish the game in relief for the Lady Pioneers and allowed just one hit over the final four innings. Powell was credited with the win.
Tusculum scored one run in the third and then ended things with a four-spot in the fifth.
Stroinski and Ball both had stellar offensive efforts in the opener. Stroinski was 4-for-4 with five runs batted in, while Ball was 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Lead-off hitter Carolyn Williamson scored three runs.
Tusculum has a home doubleheader with SAC foe Brevard Saturday at 1 p.m., and a single game against Milligan on Sunday at 3 p.m. The Lady Pioneers will begin the second half of their conference scheduled Tuesday with a key trip to rival Carson-Newman.
“Saturday is huge for us, just because we need to finish the first half of the season strong,” Huebner noted. “The second half of our schedule is going to be extremely hard, so we need to keep that momentum going.”