The softball team opened its season with a victory at Louisiana State’s Tiger Classic over the weekend, where it finished with two wins and two losses.
The Racers split games Friday, beating Central Arkansas 8-4 before falling to Minnesota 8-2. Saturday, the team came out strong once again with a 10-6 win over Oklahoma State, but lost to No. 17 Louisiana State 13-2.
After four games of impressive hitting, freshman Jessica Twaddle was named to the Tiger Classic’s All-Tournament Team. Twaddle led the team on opening weekend with a .444 batting average and only struck out once during the first four games of her college career.
“This team is really awesome about not pushing underclassmen to the side or anything like that,” Twaddle said. “Any given person can lead the team on any given weekend. So I’m just grateful for that, for my teammates and how awesome they are. They’re always pushing everybody to get better.”
Though the team had to face power conference schools in its first collegiate tournament, Twaddle said she and the rest of the team handled the pressure by keeping everything in perspective.
“We came into the game ready to go,” Twaddle said. “We put to the side that they were a big school and we were Murray State, and we came out with a big win. I was more nervous last week, and I really just prayed about it for the nerves to pass.”
She said she thought her first plate appearance would be more intimidating than it was, but she was not nervous when she stepped into the batter’s box.
With one tournament under its belt, Head Coach Kara Amundson said the team has a bigger goal in mind for the remainder of its season.
“One of the team goals this year that our players implemented was ‘Ring in the Spring,’ which means they want to win the OVC, and that’s kind of what their big picture goal is,” she said. “We’ve still got to make sure we stay focused moving forward and clean some things up, and we’re getting better every weekend.”
This weekend the Racers travel to Woodstock, Ga., to face Akron, Kennesaw State, Southeastern Louisiana and Northern Kentucky in the Phyllis Rafter Memorial Tournament.
Amundson said the team has the ability to come out with a good record as long as the players focus on their own game.
“I don’t really talk about who we’re playing so much,” she said. “I don’t think that’s something we need to do, because if we are worrying about making the routine plays, executing pitches and focusing on the game one pitch at a time, with the talent that we have, we will be just fine.”
She said that is the focus of practices – making sure the team tightens things up it has control over.
Said Amundson: “Then when we step on the field we’re ready to play Racer softball, regardless of who’s on the other side.”
When Murray State and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville met nearly a month ago, the Racers were cruising through the OVC. Unfortunately for Head Coach Steve Prohm’s team, the Cougars earned a tough 67-60 victory – throwing a wrench into the Racers’ perfect 5-0 conference record.
Prohm’s team took advantage of a chance for revenge Thursday night, however, as the Racers earned their second consecutive victory with an 82-72 win over the Cougars.
The storylines from the Jan. 16 game were SIUE forward Rozell Nunn’s 20 points and the Cougars’ 50 percent 3-point shooting percentage. Prohm’s team reversed those trends Thursday night, however, limiting the Cougars to 38 percent shooting from long range, and holding Nunn to 10 points.
“We just stayed in front of them and made them work for their shots,” sophomore guard Jeffery Moss said. “Last game we weren’t really being our normal selves, but tonight we pushed up on them more and made it more difficult on them.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Racers, however, as SIUE kicked off the game with three consecutive 3-pointers.
With his team trailing early 12-6, Prohm called a timeout to regroup his players.
“It was definitely a wakeup call,” Moss said. “All of us came out kind of sluggish – we weren’t really moving too fast on defense. After the first timeout we knew we had to pick it up and that’s what we did.”
The Racers took over the game after the early timeout, immediately going on a quick 13-1 run. Murray State took an 11 point lead into halftime and never looked back.
SIUE only got as close as nine in the second half as the Racers established a dominant presence in the post. Murray State won the rebounding battle 39-30 and outscored SIUE in the paint 48-30.
Murray State’s 82-point performance against the Cougars continued the Racers’ recent high-scoring trend.
Murray State has scored more than 80 points in four of the last six games, and the Racers currently rank as the conference’s top-scoring team.
Prohm said he cautioned his team, however, to not lose focus on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’ve proven we can score,” Prohm said. “We want to be great offensively, but you’ve always got to play defense.”
The Racers’ victory moves them to 15-9 on the season and 10-2 in OVC play – good for a four-game lead in the OVC West and the second overall spot in the conference.
With four games left on the regular season schedule, a victory Saturday against Eastern Illinois would clinch the OVC West title and an automatic two-round bye into the semifinals of the OVC Tournament.
Prohm said he isn’t too concerned with the standings at this point.
“The (OVC) West will play itself out,” Prohm said. “We’ve got four games left. We need to win all four and see where that puts us at the end.”
Since the teams’ last meeting, Eastern Illinois has gone 4-4 and sits in third place in the OVC West.
After playing Eastern Illinois, the Racers turn their sights to the final home game of the season Feb. 22 against Morehead State.
The next-to-last home game of the 2013-14 season tips off Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Story by Mallory?Tucker, Staff writer