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Eagle Softball returns from layoff to play at UE Invitational

Eagle Softball returns from layoff to play at UE Invitational
Eagle Softball returns from layoff to play at UE Invitational

The Morehead State softball team will travel to Evansville this weekend for four games at the UE Invitational. The Eagles have been off since dropping a pair of games on Sunday, Feb. 20.

It has been 12 days since MSU last played. Its home doubleheader with Shawnee State on Feb. 22 was canceled due to weather and unplayable field conditions.

Morehead State (0-9) will open the tournament with Oakland (2-4) on Saturday at 10 a.m. and then face host Evansville (9-5) at 12:30 p.m. The Blue and Gold will return Sunday to meet Green Bay (6-7) at 10 a.m. and then Bowling Green (6-3) at 3 p.m. The contests will take place at Cooper Stadium.

"All the games are going to be competitive. The teams all have big (pitching) staffs and we're going to see various pitchers of good quality. We expect our hitters to adjust and find any way to get on base," Morehead State coach Samantha Jones said. "Our pitchers are feeling good and confident. We want to make sure we're hitting our spots and allowing our defense to make the plays they usually make."

This weekend will be the first time MSU plays on a natural surface.

"We're definitely excited to get back on the field and actually play on dirt and grass for once. I think the girls will appreciate that," Jones said. "We've had a chance to get out all week and practice on dirt in great weather. I know there is some rain forecast for Sunday, but I hope the great weather continues this weekend and we get all four games in."

In their most recent outing at Gardner-Webb's Red and Black Classic, the Eagles fell to the hosts 9-8 in eight innings and then 3-1, and East Tennessee State 10-5 and 6-1. On each day of the tournament, MSU first faced ETSU and then GWU.

Morehead State has played toe-to-toe with most of its opponents this season. Four times, the Eagles fell in contests decided in the sixth inning or later. However, the squad's nine-game skid is the longest since dropping 10 in a row from March 21 to April 1 of last year.

Individually, senior catcher Peyton Slater has reached base safely in the team's last eight games, while freshman outfielder Ieesha Christian has done the same in her last six outings. Slater leads the team with a .333 batting average, while Christian is second at .310. Sophomore Lennon Spicer is the Eagles' top pitcher statistically with an 0-5 mark and a 4.75 ERA and 28 strikeouts to 16 walks.

Senior infielder Peyton Rose tied a school single-game record after being hit twice by a pitch in the contest with Gardner-Webb on Feb. 19. This season she has been plunked seven times and is already within two of moving into a tie for 10th in times hit by a pitch for a season. For her career, she has been struck 12 times, which is four shy of tying for 10th on the school's career list.

Jones hopes the time off has rejuvenated her squad and helped it get healthy.

"We're excited about getting a few players back from injuries and they've gotten some good reps this week," Jones said. "We're also looking forward to seeing some of our underclassmen, who have really made some nice improvements."

MSU has had more success against Oakland than most of the opponents in its history, sporting a 13-3 mark. The Blue and Gold won the last three meetings, with the most recent contest a 3-2 decision on Mar. 18, 2018, at the Eagle Classic. Morehead State and Green Bay have played six times with the Phoenix owning a 4-2 advantage. The two teams last met on Mar. 13, 2000, at the Rebel Spring Games in Orlando with Green Bay winning 15-0 in five innings. The Eagles trail the series with Bowling Green 2-5-1. The Falcons captured the last two outings 10-4 and 9-2 on Mar. 16-17, 2019, at the Morehead State Classic.

MSU is 1-3 all-time in its meetings with Evansville. The Eagles played the Purple Aces in their second game this spring at the Best on the Bayou Classic on Feb. 11 and dropped a 4-0 contest in nine innings that utilized the international tiebreaker.

Having already seen the Purple Aces, coach Jones knows what to expect.

"Evansville is a good hitting team that plays good sound defense," she said. "It should be a good duel offensively and I expect both teams to score a lot. We need to score more runs to help out our pitchers. Our focus will be on offense that day."

The Purple Aces went 3-1 at the Hub City Challenge last weekend in Hattiesburg, Miss. Senior Izzy Vetter is the reigning Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week. She is 7-1 this season with a 1.84 ERA and 62 strikeouts to 14 walks. Four players are batting over .300 this season and the team boasts a .275 batting average. Sophomore outfielder Alexa Davis leads the way at .382. Freshman pitcher/designated player Sydney Weatherford tops the squad with 13 RBI while also hitting .302.

Oakland enters the weekend after dropping a 6-5 decision on Wednesday to No. 3 Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla. The Golden Grizzlies have played an extremely tough schedule and have lost four in a row. Junior outfielder/catcher Lauren Griffith is the team's top batter with a .444 average. She is the lone player hitting better than .300. In the circle, sophomore pitcher Sydney Campbell owns a 2-3 record with a 3.46 ERA and has struck out 20 compared to just four walks.

Green Bay was 2-2 at the Bellarmine Invite last Saturday and Sunday. The Phoenix have three players batting over .300, including senior first baseman/third baseman Greta Thompson at .313. Junior outfielder Randi McKay has played in all 13 games and is tops among the regular starters with a .308 average. Freshman pitcher Abigail Gawlinski boasts a 4-0 record and a 1.04 ERA, along with 18 strikeouts to 13 walks this season. Senior pitcher/first baseman Brittany Baneck has thrown the most innings (36) and is 1-5 with a 5.25 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 13 walks.

Bowling Green went 2-2 at last weekend's N.C. State Invitational. Sophomore utility player Peyton Dolejs leads the Falcons with a .429 batting average and is second on the squad with 10 RBI. Sophomore Payton Gottshall owns a 3-2 record with a 2.16 ERA and 52 strikeouts and nine walks this season in the circle

Live stats are available for all four of the Eagles' contests this weekend at https://gopurpleaces.com/sidearmstats/softball/summary.

MSU is scheduled to open its home slate on Tuesday with a doubleheader against Butler. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. Next weekend the club will travel to Greenville, N.C., for four games at the Purple-Gold Invitational.

By Brad Laux, MSU Athletic Media Relations