STARKVILLE, Miss. – The Middle Tennessee softball team (3-2) got off to a sluggish start, dropping their first two contests before capturing three straight to end the weekend at the Bulldog Kickoff Classic in Mississippi.
The Blue Raiders started the weekend facing host Mississippi State (5-0). The Bulldogs proved to be the Blue Raiders’ toughest competition out of the five-game swing, losing 9-1 to Mississippi State.
Starting strong was an emphasis for Middle Tennessee and they capitalized early in the top of the first. After a single by Cor’Nisha Birdsong and two outs to advance her, another single by Megan Griffith put the Blue Raiders up 1-0 in the first inning.
The Bulldogs responded immediately, scoring four runs in the bottom half of the first inning. A triple with two outs by Katie Anne Bailey drove in Ashley Phillips from third base. The triple was immediately followed up by a single by Mackenzie Toler to score the second run and take the lead.
The Bulldogs scored their other two runs off of a fielder’s choice and another single in the latter stages of the inning.
The Mississippi State pitching and defense played terrific for the remainder of the game, not allowing Middle Tennessee to notch another hit.
The offense for the Bulldogs continued to figure out Blue Raider pitcher Kelci Cheney, adding four more runs to their run total in the third and fourth innings.
Cheney exited the game and Caitlin McClure closed out the game for the Blue Raiders. McClure gave up the final run on just one hit and two walks in an inning and a third of action.
The Blue Raiders looked to rebound from the 9-1 defeat the next day, taking on a tough Atlantic-10 team in Saint Louis (2-3).
The Blue Raiders once again struck first, adding their first run in the bottom of the first on a fielder’s choice.
Both teams found a rhythm in the third inning with the Billikens leading the charge. Saint Louis scored three quick runs with the bases loaded after singles by Allie Macfarlane, Mackenzie Peter and Alyssa Tarquinio.
SLU added their fourth and final run of the inning off of a sac-fly by Josie Knesel.
The Blue Raiders responded instantly in the bottom of the third after Cheyenne Willis tripled to right center with the bases loaded to tie the game.
Samantha Nieves gave Middle Tennessee the lead back with a quick single off Billiken pitcher Laney Kneib, scoring Willis from third.
Saint Louis tied the game in the fifth inning off of a triple down the right field line by Josie Knesel. The Billikens took the lead again in the sixth inning after scoring two runs off of another single from Allie Macfarlane.
Alyssa Tarquinio extended the SLU lead to 8-5 in the seventh inning after hitting a home run off Middle Tennessee pitcher Megan Chocallo.
The Blue Raiders fought back in the bottom of the seventh after scoring the tying runs off of doubles by Samantha Nieves and Alma Cortez.
With the game tied at eight heading into extra innings, the Billikins scored the eventual game-winning run after a groundout to second by Macie Wheeler.
With two games down and no wins to show for it, the Blue Raiders were searching for a victory against their next opponent, Mississippi Valley State (1-5).
Middle Tennessee’s offense got into a groove in the second inning, adding their first two runs on a single by Alma Cortez. The Blue Raiders did not look back, exploding for eight runs in the third inning to push the lead to 10-0.
The Blue Raiders went on to defeat Mississippi Valley 14-0 after four more insurance runs forced the mercy rule.
Sitting at a 1-2 tournament record, in-state rival Austin Peay (1-4) awaited the Blue Raiders. For the fourth game in a row, the Blue Raiders were first to get on the board, adding a run off of a Carlie Jenkins single in the top of the first.
APSU responded in the bottom half of the first, tying the game off of a single by Christiana Gable.
Megan Griffith gave the Blue Raiders the lead again in the third inning after singling through left field. Kiarra Freeman and Cor’Nisha Birdsong scored to extend Middle Tennessee’s lead to 3-1.
A single from Morgan Harris scored Carlie Jenkins from third to push the lead to 4-1 heading into the bottom of the third.
Both teams traded runs over the next innings, with Middle Tennessee finally taking the lead for good in the sixth inning. Carlie Jenkins came up big again in the inning after scoring Freeman and Birdsong on a single to left field, earning her second and third RBI on the day.
Middle Tennessee wrapped up the 8-5 victory following those runs.
The Blue Raiders completed tournament play with another game against Mississippi Valley State University. Just like the first contest, Middle Tennessee exploded again, scoring nine runs in the second inning and three in the third to gain an early 12-0 lead.
MVSU finally got on the board in the third, scoring a pair to cut the lead to 12-2. The Blue Raiders added one more in the game, leading to a final score of 13-2.
Overall, MTSU went 3-2 over the weekend to start its season. The Blue Raiders are back in action this weekend in Clermont, Florida for the Dot Richardson Classic on Feb. 13. Middle Tennessee’s opening-round game for the tournament is set for 1:30 p.m. CST.
For more Blue Raider sports, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_Sport.
To contact sports editor Connor Grott, email email@example.com or reach him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.