Harbin’s Gem Completes Season-Sweep Of Morehead State

Senior pitcher Tiffany Harbin

Senior pitcher Tiffany Harbin

JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State stranded eight runners on base in Sunday’s series finale against Morehead State.

The two they didn’t strand made all the difference in the Gamecocks’ 2-0 win over the Eagles. The win completed the season-sweep.

“I told the girls earlier,” head coach Jana McGinnis said, “this game is a funny game. We can’t expect our offense to be on or batting over .500 every game or every series.

“That’s when you turn to your defense and your pitching. Luckily, we’re strong in those areas so we’re able to turn to that.”

Tiffany Harbin (12-6) embodies that strength in pitching. She pitched a complete-game shutout, gave up four hits and struck out nine Sunday. It was her 15th complete game and eighth shutout this season. The only hits she surrendered were three bloop singles to the outfield and a seeing-eye single in the seventh inning.

“It’s especially important,” Harbin said. “Our pitching staff has been doing well lately. Some of our hitters are in a slump or they’re not happy with how they’re doing. For our pitching staff to be there when they’re down, just like they are for us when we’re not having a good day, is really important.”

The Gamecocks’ pitchers’ dominance began Saturday when they swept Games 1 and 2 of the series opening doubleheader 4-0 and 5-0. They were aided in large part by the long ball in Game 2 when they sent four homers flying over the fence. In Game 3, they had to earn runs the hard way.

They only managed five hits so they relied on drawing walks and sacrificing runners into scoring position. Unfortunately, outside of the third inning, those efforts came up short. Ella Denes scored the first run in the third inning when Cadi Oliver was hit by a pitch. Taylor Sloan scored on a play at the plate after a passed ball got away from the catcher. She barely avoided the covering pitcher’s tag.

Freshman Taylor Sloan

Freshman Taylor Sloan

“I stay really alert on third,” Sloan said. “I love to steal home. When I saw her kind of bobble it a little bit, I just heard coach say go and I just went for it. I thought it was going to go further than it did. It became a close play but I ended up scoring”

It was Sloan ‘s first series back in the lineup after suffering an undisclosed injury. She was a combined 0-for-4 in Games 1 and 2. Even so, she ended her slump as she finished 1-for-3 Sunday and was the only Gamecock to score a run that managed a hit.

“Coming back, my teammates are making me feel like it never happened,” said Sloan, who is batting .337 this season as a freshman. “I’m just coming back, doing work like I always have. I just have to get back in the groove of things and I have my teammates supporting me every step of the way.

“A bunch of the seniors came to me and said ‘Don’t stress about it. We know you can hit the ball. Just get up there and do what you’ve been doing.”

Sara Borders, Kalee Tabor, Melanie Steer and Savannah Sloan managed JSU’s other hits.

The Gamecocks’ sweep is only the third time it has shutout an Ohio Valley Conference opponent in a three-game series since joining the conference in 2003. The others came against Tennessee Tech on April 18 and 19, 2009, and this season against Tennessee State.

It could not have come at a better time as the Gamecocks are in a tight conference race with a red-hot Southern Illinois – Edwardsville for first place. The sweep keeps them at a half game behind.

“Its just tough,” McGinnis said. “On a weekend when you’ve got three games, it’s just tough to sweep a team. It’s always huge in the conference race when you can get three wins. It’s big because on Sunday, both teams are familiar with each other. There’s no unknowns. You’ve really got to gut it out and battle.”

Added Harbin: “It’s important that we got the sweep. We have to win every game because SIUE, they’re doing really well. It’s a tough challenge with all the teams in the conference.”

The Gamecocks (29-11, 13-4 OVC) take a break from conference play in their next game. They will take on Georgia State at University Field on Tuesday at 5 p.m.

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