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13 May 2008

JSU Softball Wins 1st OVC Tourney Title

JSU teammates and Gadsden natives Rachel Fleming, left, and Allie Barker embrace after Saturday’s OVC softball tournament title win. Jacksonville State University Sports Information Photo

Special to The Times
Published May 13, 2008

Reprinted here in its entirety.

JACKSONVILLE — The Jacksonville State softball team powered its way to another mercy-rule win over Tennessee Tech in Saturday’s Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game, rol-ling to a 10-1 win and its first OVC Tournament title at University Field.

The top-seeded Gamecocks (38-14) hit four home runs and rode a strong pitching performance from freshman Ashley Eliasson to ease past the fifth-seeded Golden Eagles (32-30-1) and secure the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996.

It was the Gamecocks’ second mercy-rule win over TTU in three days. JSU ended the game in the sixth after a three-run walk-off home run by junior Courtney Underwood capped a five-run inning and gave her team the deciding nine-run lead.

“Coming into this game, we thought it was going to be a two- or three-run game,” JSU head coach Jana McGinnis said. “Whenever you can take the bat out of their hands, you are better off. I couldn’t be more proud of the way this team played this weekend.”

Senior outfielder and Gaston alum Rachel Fleming, who hit .556 and had a .667 on-base percentage while making several spectacular plays in the field over the three-day tournament, was named the tournament’s MVP and headed a list of four Gamecocks on the All-Tournament Team. Fleming was 2-for-3 with a home run and three runs scored in Saturday’s championship game.

Eliasson (14-3) earned the win in all three tournament games for the Gamecocks to join Fleming on the All-Tournament squad. She held Tech to a run on seven hits in six innings on Saturday, while also walking three and striking out three. Sophomore Nikki Prier along with junior and Gadsden native Allie Barker, who each hit .400 over the tournament, were the other two JSU players on the team.

The regular-season champion Gamecocks, who have played Tennessee Tech in the finals of the OVC Tournament in three of the last four years, earn their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since they went as the champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference in 1996. They traveled to Seattle, where they fell to top-ranked Washington and Indiana.

This year, the team will play in the Tuscaloosa Regional against Florida State at 4 p.m. Thursday.

“As a coach, I have to admit that I have wondered if I would end my career only experiencing playing in the NCAA Tournament just once,” McGinnis added. “I’ve seen so many teams experience it and have even been an NCAA representative at a regional. There is nothing like it, and you’ve got to get there to really appreciate that. I am so excited that this team will be able to experience that, and that will hopefully go a long way towards building a program that expects to go every year.”

The Gamecocks got off to a good start in Saturday’s title game, claiming a 1-0 lead in the home half of the second on a solo home run from Barker. The shot was the team-leading 15th of the year for Barker.

Tech tied the game in the next half inning on a solo shot from Amanda Glover, but JSU answered in the home half of the inning with Fleming’s solo homer.

The score remained 2-1 for two innings before JSU rattled off three runs on three hits to take a 5-1 lead. O’Neal started the sixth with a two-run shot and Underwood capped a productive weekend with her three-run walk-off shot.

TTU freshman Maddie Schmissrauter (11-12) suffered the loss for the Golden Eagles after allowing five runs on five hits in four and one-thirds innings in the circle. Sarah Street got one out in relief before surrendering five runs on three hits and a pair of walks.

Underwood, a native of Huntsville, drove in a team-high seven runs in the tournament and hit two home runs.

There were six JSU players who hit .333 or better over the three days and six players combined to scatter the team’s eight home runs. The Gamecocks boasted a .351 team batting average, while holding a 1.47 team earned run average.

“We are so proud of this team,” McGinnis said. “It is just a great group of girls. We have had no problems out of any of them, on the field or off, this season, and you want good people and good teams to succeed.

“They are a good team. We don’t have one or two players that have been the superstars. This has been a complete team effort, and I couldn’t be happier for them.”

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