The Gamecocks lost their final game of the regular season 7-5 on a pinch-homer in the seventh inning to Murray State Sunday at University Field.
They’re still the No. 2 seed in the tournament that starts Thursday at Eastern Illinois, but it’s more like they’re limping into it than going in strong.
The preseason conference favorites have now lost their last three conference series and seven of their last 10 games overall. They will have to win the tournament to earn a fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid.
“You want momentum and you want to win,” JSU coach Jana McMcGinnis said. “You want to be on a roll going into the tournament.
“I haven’t seen a team that just turns it around and starts clicking — other than Tennessee Tech in 2007. They barely got into the tournament and when they got in there, they ran through it like a wild fire. I hope we can do that. … I’ve not seen it done. Maybe this team can do something different.”
While there was uncertainty on the JSU side, Murray State couldn’t be happier. By winning two of three this weekend, the Racers (23-26, 13-15 OVC) nosed out Tennessee Tech for the sixth and final spot in the tournament field. They’ll play the Gamecocks (36-18, 21-9) again if they beat UT Martin in their opening-round game.
“It’s not desirable, but the bottom line is we made the tournament,” said third
baseman Amanda Crow, one of three JSU seniors recognized before the game. “We’re second place in the tournament; we get a bye. We just have to really focus and really work hard the days we have at practice to win three games. That’s all we need is three games.”
JSU rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 5-3 to tie the game each time, but wound up losing it on freshman Leslie Bridges’ two-run pinch homer in the seventh off senior Ashley Eliasson. It was Bridges’ first career homer (in 109 at-bats) and came two pitches after catcher Kaycee Crow couldn’t corral Bridges’ foul pop near the screen.
It was that kind of day for the Gamecocks. They had the go-ahead run in scoring position with two outs in the second, third, fourth and sixth innings and couldn’t push it across. They delivered early, but were 0 for their last five at-bats with runners in scoring position in the game, stranding seven runners.
“We had our opportunities to win the game and just couldn’t do it,” McGinnis said. “Those early bases-loaded opportunities that we just let slip away … in this game and in baseball, more times than none, they come back to haunt you.”
The Gamecocks batted around in the second with two outs to tie the game at 3 and tied it again in the sixth — after Murray retook the lead in the top of the inning— on senior Sallie Beth Burch’s bases-loaded walk and Hayden Crawford’s suicide squeeze bunt.
Even though it was a risky move and the Gamecocks haven’t been good in those situations this year, all the ingredients were in place to put on the squeeze. The pitcher wasn’t throwing hard, Crawford was a good bunter and the corners were playing back.
Crawford, whose walk-off homer in Saturday’s first game clinched the second seed for JSU, dropped her bunt down the third base line and pinch-runner Hilary Phillips raced home easily with the run.
“You take those risks and sometimes they don’t work out, but times like that they do, but you’ll never know until you take that opportunity,” Amanda Crow said. “We saw an opportunity we had with a quick runner on third base and she took advantage of it.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.