Borders’ Walk-Off Lifts Harbin To Record-Breaking Win
JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State’s softball team knew Sara Borders would win the game before she even stepped foot in the batter’s box. Borders knew it as soon as she made contact.
With the Gamecocks trailing Tennessee Tech 3-2 in the seventh inning, Borders sent a three-run walk-off shot flying over the left center field fence. The 5-3 win completed the series sweep and was a JSU record 65th win for senior pitcher Tiffany Harbin’s career.
“We tell them everyday at practice,” head coach Jana McGinnis said, “ballgames are never over with you guys until the umpire says ballgame. They just believe in one another and they rise to the occasion. …All of them, when they came out after (Borders) hit the home run, they said ‘we called that, coach.'”
Harbin put the career wins record out of her mind before the game. The Golden Eagles almost put it out of reach in the sixth inning. That is when they hit back-to back homers to take a 3-1 lead.
Even so, Harbin never lost faith in the Gamecocks’ (17-5, 3-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference) batters, and they never lost their faith in her. McGinnis heard them tell Harbin “Hey, we’ve got you, Tiff” after giving up the homers.
“I knew that the defense would be behind me for the rest of the inning, Harbin said, “and I knew that their bats were hot. We were just waiting for a time to explode.”
Harbin was one of the Gamecocks to predict Borders’ walk-off homer. Their confidence in Borders to deliver in the clutch is understandable. She leads the team in hitting with a .533 average and eight homers.
“I just feel like I’m seeing the ball well,” Borders said. “She had thrown me two balls so I knew either she was going to go with something way out to walk me or she was going to throw me something good to hit. She threw me one right there on the outside part.”
Harbin may not have been thinking about the record, but Borders said she “knew she was getting close to it.”
“When they decided to start her, I was excited,” Borders said. “This is one of the many milestones she’s reached. It’s always great when she hits one of those.”
Harbin was already JSU’s leader in career strikeouts and the single-season record holder in appearances. Breaking Jill Wilcoxson’s record set in 2001 is feat she could not imagine four years ago.
“I came out here as a freshman and I tried to do the best I could,” Harbin said. “I didn’t think that I would get this record because we’ve had a lot of great players in the past. But, it feels good. I’m going to keep working hard.”
Added McGinnis: “There’s been some real good pitchers come through here. …(Harbin) doesn’t know those girls, she didn’t play with them. If she did, she’s honored now, but she would really be honored to be above their names.”
Despite trailing for most of the game, the Gamecocks were not being outplayed. Harbin pitched a complete game and struck out 10. They just could not catch a break on offense. They had the bases loaded in the second inning but could not capitalize on it thanks to TTU’s third baseman Courtney Fry turning an unassisted double-play on a hard liner.
Fry would end the Gamecocks’ hopes of scoring again in the fourth inning. JSU had runners on second and third with only one out. Fry helped turn a 5-3 double-play to end the inning still tied 1-1.
“I’m proud of the team for showing the resilience,” McGinnis said. “I thought the first five innings, I didn’t think we were playing bad. I thought Tech was getting a lot of breaks. I thought we were hitting the ball solid. That’s the nature of the game.”
Borders went 2-for 4 with three RBIs. Stephanie Lewis finished 2-for-3 and scored the first run of the Gamecocks’ four-run seventh inning.
The Gamecocks take a break from OVC play in their next game. They take on UAB at home Tuesday at 6 p.m.