Defense rules the day, but gets plenty of help from the offense in 8-4 win
Morehead State softball has played 263 games since it last swept a three-game Ohio Valley Conference series. That happened six years ago against Belmont in coach David Williams' fifth season at the helm of the program.
The next time the Eagles take the field that number will be zero as the club completed the weekend with an 8-4 home win over SIU-Edwardsville on Saturday at MSU's University Field after having taken the first two games on Friday. It also marked the first time the Blue and Gold won a series against the Cougars, which entered Friday's opener with a 25-3 overall record and a 17-1 mark in Morehead versus MSU.
In two days, the Eagles recorded as many wins against SIUE than it did in the previous 12 years.
"Another amazing game. (Sophomore) Lennon (Spicer) did a great job on the mound. There were a couple of innings where they started hitting her hard, but you know what? The defense did a great job of backing her up. They kept a calming presence. They played with a lead. They played with confidence," said MSU coach Samantha Jones. "And (we) had some hard hits throughout the whole game, making their defense work. And (our) base running was again outstanding, so (we) put the pressure on their defense."
Morehead State (5-27/4-12) never trailed in the series and each game followed the same pattern. MSU jumped ahead early, had one big inning and then held off a late charge from SIUE (14-26/5-12). Over the three days, the Eagles outscored the Cougars 19-6. As a team, the Blue and Gold finished the series batting .329, with a 1.3 ERA and a .967 fielding percentage, stark contrasts to what the club had done prior to that. SIUE did end the weekend with more hits 29-24.
A big reason for the team's success was the play of sophomore second baseman Peyton Jordan. Since returning from an early-season elbow injury on March 30, she has been flawless in the field. On Saturday, she was 1-for-2 with three RBI and perfect in four chances when facing the Cougars' batted balls.
Against SIUE, the team's play with the glove was a big part of the story.
"Defensively, I think we did really good. We minimized the errors. We really worked together behind Lennon (Spicer). Lennon threw a great game, minimized the walks," Jordan said of Saturday's performance. "In the last inning, Lennon had a diving play, which was huge. Not having a runner on with no outs was a big save. So, that was definitely one of the big ones. I think we had a couple of plays up the middle that were pretty important and a lot of good strikeouts to end innings were important, too."
Confidence and momentum provided a huge shot in the arm. After winning Friday's games 7-0 and 4-2, the Eagles were already riding high. That only intensified in Saturday's fourth inning when the team pounded out six runs on four hits, two sacrifice flies, a fielder's choice (where obstruction was awarded to the base runner), three walks and a hit batsman. In all, 12 players went to the plate and SIUE used three pitchers.
"The fourth inning we scored about six runs when we were hitting and that was a big boost. We were all really excited," Jordan said.
"I feel like … when we scored six (runs), that everything started coming together," said junior center fielder Trinity Spear, who finished the game 2-for-3 at the plate. "Everybody was being smart on the bases, taking their time and (having) quality at-bats, which (led to) very timely hits which helped us score."
Spicer was perfect in the circle retiring 10 consecutive batters to start the game. In the bottom of the third, the offense kicked into gear. Spear started the surge with a leadoff triple that slipped just inside the first base bag and rolled down the line and eventually to the fence along the first base line, as junior shortstop Kirya Kingery added a bunt single and Jordan hit a two-out single to right field that sent both Spear and Kingery home for a 2-0 lead.
"Today, we had a lot of quality at-bats and just taking our time and making sure that we could get the pitch that we wanted," said Spear. "Everybody went up to bat with the plan and the mindset that they were going to get on base."
The Cougars wasted little time in responding, reeling off four consecutive singles with one out. Freshman shortstop Aerin Talley broke up the no-hitter with a slow roller that Kingery had to run up to and then make a throw across her body, sophomore pitcher Lexi King and sophomore third baseman Grace Lueke each drove a shot into right-center field, with the latter sending Talley home. Freshman right fielder Lauryn Yslava evened the score with her hard-hit ball down the right-field line that pushed King across the plate. But, the Cougars left the bases loaded when the inning ended.
And that is when the floodgates opened.
Freshman right fielder Ilencia Lightbody tripled to right field, sophomore designated player Mayumi Kinchen-Atkins singled to center field to drive Lightbody home, Spear singled to center field, junior left fielder Maddi Gailor reached on a fielder's choice made possible when sophomore pinch runner Erin Boyle was awarded third base after colliding with Tally at shortstop.
With no outs and the bases loaded, SIUE turned to sophomore Sydney Baalman in the circle. However, the Eagles continued to take advantage of their opportunities. Kingery drew a walk that sent Boyle home, senior catcher Peyton Slater was hit by a pitch scoring Spear, Jordan hit a towering fly ball into right field that allowed Gailor to tag up and come home and senior first baseman Alexis Strother mirrored Jordan's sac fly with one of her own to plate Kingery. Lightbody walked and both she and Jordan moved up a base after a wild pitch, then Kinchen-Atkins drew a walk to re-load the bases and the Cougars went back to the bullpen and brought in sophomore Kelsey Ray to stop the bleeding, which she did ending the inning by inducing a ground out.
The visitors could not muster any offense of their own in the fifth, but were able to close the gap with a one-out Yslava home run that flew just inside of the left-field foul pole. The four-bagger also scored King who opened the inning with a single to center field. Sophomore designated player Grace Bretveld followed with ha double to right field, but the Eagles were able to end the threat by forcing the next two batters into committing outs.
In the seventh, Lennon made a diving catch on a short looping hit toward the first-base line, Jordan caught a pop up at second and Talley went down swinging on three straight strikes.
The win improved MSU to 5-6 at home this year and gave the Blue and Gold their first three-game win streak since April 7-17 last spring. The result also sent SIUE to its 10th consecutive defeat in its last 11 outings.
Six Eagles had hits, six had RBI and six scored runs. Spear and Kingery each finished with a pair of hits and scored twice. Jordan, Lightbody, Kinchen-Atkins and senior third baseman Peyton Rose added one hit apiece. Jordan paced the squad with three RBI. Kingery, Slater, Rose, Kinchen-Atkins and senior first baseman Alexis Strother each contributed one. Slater, Lightbody, Boyle and junior left fielder Madeline Gailor all crossed home plate once.
King and Yslava were the only Cougars with multiple hits. King finished the day 2-for-3 when two runs, while Yslava was 2-for-3 with three RBI and one run.
Spicer earned her second consecutive win and improved to 4-13. In a complete game, she recorded six strikeouts, while yielding seven hits, four earned runs and one walk.
King was saddled with the loss to fall to 4-4. She pitched three innings and allowed seven hits, six earned runs, and one walk, while striking out one. Baalman lasted two-thirds of an innings and surrendered two earned runs, one hit and three walks, without striking out a batter. Ray was the most effective of the three, going two and one-third hitless and scoreless innings without walking a batter, while striking out two.
"This is a really good building block for our team and our program going in to Marshall on Wednesday," coach Jones said. "We are super excited for this program, especially since it's the first series sweep since 2016. They've definitely earned it with their hard work and competitiveness, their passion, and most importantly, their resilience."
Morehead State's rescheduled contest with Rio Grande has again been postponed due to anticipated heavy rain, making the Eagles' next game a single outing at Marshall on Wednesday at 3 p.m.
By Brad Laux, MSU Athletic Media Relations