Seniors Lift Gamecocks To Sweep Of Bruins On Senior Day
JACKSONVILLE — Only two things could have stopped Jacksonville State from finishing off the sweep in this weekend’s Ohio Valley Conference series with Belmont: the Bruins and mother nature.
The Gamecocks beat them both on Sunday. They were able to squeeze in an 8-0 mercy-rule win just before the rainfall began.
However, had either of them won, the Gamecocks could have fallen back out of first-place OVC and trailed Eastern Illinois.
“It would have been frustrating if we had ended the game early,” head coach Jana McGinnis said. “But, it worked out. It is kind of frustrating but we’ve always said don’t worry about the things you can’t control. We can’t control weather.”
Even so, the Gamecocks (36-12, 20-4 OVC) did have control of the game from the beginning. Senior pitcher Tiffany Harbin (13-6) pitched her sixth-straight shutout and leads the nation with 12 on the year.
“Just trusting my defense is the reason why I feel like I’m doing so well,” said Harbin, who struck out nine batters. “I can just go out there and relax, especially today. They scored some runs early. It’s nice out there being able to relax and trust my defense. If they do get a hit or put a ball in play, we’re going to make a play.”
The Gamecocks jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first thanks to a two-run homer by Sara Boarders and a three-run double by Kalee Tabor.
Tabor’s offensive output was a welcomed sight to the Gamecocks. The senior third baseman usually bats in the middle of the order. But with her struggles from the plate recently, Tabor found herself batting eighth on Sunday. Even so, she led the Gamecocks with 3 RBIs and finished 2-for-2.
“Recently I’ve been struggling a little bit,” Tabor said. “The coaches made a great decision and they replaced me with somebody who was hitting. I just saw the ball really good today. I have to say thank you to my teammates because everybody was hitting the ball really good today.”
Senior outfielder Hayden Crawford brought in the next two runs with a double to left center in the second inning. She finished 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs and a run scored. Senior first baseman Amanda Maldonado’s sac-fly to center field brought in Boarders for the Gamecocks’ final run in the bottom of the fourth. She finished with one RBI and a run scored.
Boarders finished 3-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs scored. Taylor Sloan and Savannah Sloan finished with two hits each.
“I thought yesterday in the first game, we didn’t hit the ball good,” McGinnis said. “After that, we challenged them as coaches and we really got on to some of them because I didn’t feel like they were focused and playing their game. But then they stepped up in the next two games. They really responded. That’s signs of good players and good teams. When you challenge them and get on them pretty hard, you want them to respond. That’s why you get on them like that, and they did.”
JSU honored its five senior prior to Sunday’s game. Harbin, Tabor, Crawford, Maldonado and Savannah Hennings has been a part of a senior class that have won two OVC championships and is looking for its third.
“This is a special senior class,” McGinnis said. “They’re a senior class that has helped us have tremendous success. They have won conference championships. But, this senior class is special because they’ve been good leaders.
“They’re a senior class that the underclassmen want to play for. They haven’t just been drill sergeants. They haven’t just been demanding respect. They’ve earned respect”
The OVC regular-season champion will be determined next weekend. Winning that would mean hosting the conference tournament. That would give the Gamecock’s seniors another chance to play at University field.
“I can’t believe it’s already here,” Tabor said. I feel like it was just yesterday we started in the fall. This year really went by fast.
Added Harbin: “It feels like just yesterday I was a freshman watching coach (Sallie Beth Birch). She was a senior when I was a freshman so it’s bitter-sweet. But, if we keep playing like we should play, then we’ll be back here for the tournament.”
The first-place Gamecocks are in control of their own destiny. They will play their final non-conference game on Wednesday in Montgomery against Alabama State. The Gamecocks return to OVC play on Saturday at Eastern Kentucky for the final series of the season.