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Jax State home runs doom Skyhawks in OVC finale

Jax State home runs doom Skyhawks in OVC finale
MARTIN, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee at Martin softball team could not do very much to stop Jacksonville State in the championship game of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament as the Gamecocks used three home runs to pick up the 10-1 win in five innings. The win earns Jacksonville State the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
The loss drops UT Martin’s record to 47-11 on the year, with four of those losses coming at the hands of Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks will now enter the NCAA Tournament with a 30-17 overall record.
“We just did not play well at all today and didn’t hit like we are capable of which put a lot of pressure on our pitching staff,” said Skyhawk head coach Donley Canary after the championship game loss.
He added, “The way this ended really leaves a bitter taste on what has been a very good season. Hopefully we can pick up an at-large selection from the NCAA committee and have a chance for the senior class to go out in a better way. They have done so much to build the success of this program and they deserve a chance to be on the field again.”
Canary’s wishes were unfulfilled as the selection committee did not offer UT Martin an at-large bid.
In order to get to the OVC championship game, the Skyhawks won a thrilling 3-2 victory over No. 4 seed Eastern Illinois in their tourney opener on Thursday. On the following day, Jacksonville State knocked the Skyhawks into the losers bracket with a 5-4 loss UT Martin responded on Saturday morning with a 2-1 win over Tennessee Tech to advance to the title contest.
Jacksonville State opened the championship game with doubles from Chrissy O’Neal and Nikki Prier to quickly jump on top of the Skyhawks 1-0. UT Martin and starter Kate Vanderham recovered and escaped the inning without more damage until the third inning.
In the top of the third, Jacksonville State again led off with a double, this time from University of Georgia transfer and Women’s College World Series participant last year Tess Echols. O’Neal followed with a single before Kelci Johnston homered to left to push the Gamecock lead to 4-0 after three innings. That marked the end of the day for Vanderham and the Skyhawks turned to OVC Pitcher of the Year Paij Lintz. The first batter that Lintz faced, Nikki Prier, increased the Gamecock lead to 5-0 when she went back-to-back with a solo homer to right.
Having overcome a four run deficit the night before, and having the top hitting offense in the league this year, UT Martin was confident in its ability to come back but was unable to string anything together in the bottom of the third.
Jacksonville State pushed the game out of reach in the fourth when it plated five runs. Mery Beth Ledbetter led off with a homer t then after a walk to O’Neal, Lintz’s day was done after only 1.1 innings of work. Freshman Leevie Greenwood came in but did not record an out as Johnston connected on a two-run homer, her second of the day. By the end of the at-bat Jacksonville State led 10-0.
UT Martin finally got on the board in the bottom of the fourth after Laura Roberts and Megan Van Arsdale both reached base with two-out singles. Kalah Mathis lined a single up the middle to plate Roberts.
In the game Garrett was the only Skyhawk to record multiple hits, going 2-for-2, while Roberts and Van Arsdale each picked up hits and Mathis had a hit and a RBI.
In the circle Vanderham took the loss, falling to 16-4 on the year.
Canary added, “You also have to give a whole lot of credit to Jacksonville State. We didn’t play our best today, but they are a very good team and did everything right to win today.”
During the tournament awards ceremony, Skyhawks Megan Van Arsdale, Laurie Lindow and Kate Vanderham were each named to the OVC All-Tournament Team. Van Arsdale and Lindow both appear on the all-tournament team for a second consecutive season, while Vanderham makes her first appearance on the all-tourney team.

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