By MARY JEAN HALL
Special to The Messenger
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The UT Martin softball team failed to get a needed win against Georgia Tech on Saturday in order to stay alive in the NCAA Regional Softball Tournament at Rhoads Stadium.
UT Martin fell to No. 2 seed Alabama on Friday 5-1 and was eliminated from the tournament after a 9-1 loss to the Yellowjackets on Saturday. Georgia Tech advanced in the tournament to play South Alabama, and UT Martin finished the season with a 39-22 record.
The final scores don’t exactly reflect how UT Martin performed. With the exception of two or three innings throughout the entire tournament, UT Martin played well.
Coming into the tournament, UT Martin’s team, ranked No. 115 out of 289 Division I softball programs, knew it would have to overcome the challenges of facing not only the No. 2 seed Alabama, but No. 21 seed Georgia Tech and No. 43 seed South Alabama as well.
Despite the heart shown by the Skyhawks, only sophomore left fielder Kayla Wade was able to score in the third inning against Georgia Tech’s defense. Wade was brought in from first base by senior shortstop Jenny Bain’s double to left center to tie the game 1-1.
Wade knew that she had to be quick to make it to Georgia Tech’s catcher Alysha Rudnik.
“I was running my heart out,” said Wade. “When Jenny Bain hit that ball I knew it was in the gap, and I was going home. I knew that I had to run my fastest and get to her feet.”
Despite Wade’s run, UT Martin couldn’t get enough momentum to take the lead against Georgia Tech. The ‘Jackets scored two runs in the top of the fifth to take the lead in the game.
“I don’t think the score is indicative of the way the game was played,” said UT Martin head coach Donley Canary. “It was a 3-1 ball game that kind of got away from us there in the last inning. We are proud of our kids. They played hard; they left it all on the ball field.”
Georgia Tech went on to score six runs in the top of the seventh inning.
“I was getting frustrated and they were just hitting what I gave them,” said UT Martin senior pitcher Chelsea Jones. “It was just not my day today.”
UT Martin acquired four hits off of Georgia Tech pitcher Hope Rush, who also gave up five walks. Along with Bain’s RBI double, Morgan Lewis, Leah Taylor and Erica Duke each had one hit.
“Even though I will not be on the team anymore, I am pumped for them next year,” said Jones. “Our team is very young, so I hope that they gained everything they could from this. Hopefully it will keep making our program better.”
Alabama 5, UTM 1
Despite the loss to Alabama on Friday, UT Martin senior catcher Erica Duke still has a reason to celebrate after slugging a homer to left field in the fifth inning.
“I’m not a very patient hitter,” said Duke. “I told myself to be patient all week. I think the second strike she threw me was a backdoor curve. I knew I needed to be looking for that because that’s a pretty good pitch.”
I went 3-2 and knew she was going to bring it to me. I put weight on my back foot and swung as hard as I could to see what I could do with it.”
UT Martin started out the game slowly in the first two innings, trailing 4-0. The team quickly adjusted and stepped up their game.
“We played hard,” said Canary. “We got off to a bad start. I told the girls before we went out there that the first three innings were going to be critical.
“We played well and righted the ship. Chelsea got her feet underneath her and we played well after that.”
With attendance at Rhoads Stadium listed at 2,060, UT Martin had a sizable contingent among the partisan Bama crowd.
“I’m just not used to that kind of an atmosphere,” said Jones. “Once I got over it, I was ready. Some of my pitches weren’t moving at first so I just shook it off and got the nerves out.”
Jones did not give up any walks while her team was able to get two walks off of Alabama pitcher Amanda Locke. Jones only gave up one more run in the sixth inning by Alabama pinch-hitter Jadyn Spencer, which led to the final score.
“I think that Tennessee-Martin represented themselves very well,” said Alabama Head Coach Patrick Murphy. “You can tell that they are the champion of their league after the first inning. I don’t know if we thought it was going to be a little too easy. I give credit to their pitcher for battling through the next five innings.”
Alabama went on to beat South Alabama 6-0 in the final game Sunday and will host Michigan in the Super Regional.
“It’s a young team, and they learned from it,” said Canary. “Twelve out of the 18 girls are freshmen or sophomores. We have to get more pitching and replace (Jones) in the circle and replace Jenny Bain at shortstop and we will be fine.”
With a team consisting of only five upperclassmen, Canary doesn’t have many positions to fill after this season. The three UT Martin seniors, Bain, Jones, and Duke, have all been a part of two NCAA Regional Tournaments, two OVC tournament championships, and two OVC regular season championships.
“The seniors left a real good mark for our freshmen to shoot for by winning over 160 ballgames in the last four years,” said Canary.
Published in The Messenger 5.21.12