JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Impressive bats, solid pitching, and a key player back in the lineup aided Jacksonville softball in a dominating mid-week sweep of visiting Savannah State Wednesday afternoon at Debbie & Fred Pruitt Softball Complex. Needing to split just 10 innings for the afternoon doubleheader, the Dolphins took the opener, 14-3, and outscored the Tigers, 17-1, in game two.
"We were balanced, mature, and aggressive in the strike zone; we haven't been able to consistently do that," said Head Coach Jennifer Steele. "To be able to do it in game one and not miss a beat going into game two was impressive."
Returning from an injury that sidelined her for over two weeks, Heather Roberts didn't miss a beat, either, as she led the Dolphins at the plate with a 5-for-6 performance. The junior drove in seven RBI and had a triple, a walk, and a sacrifice fly.
"It felt great to be back. I missed being on the field with my teammates and it was awesome being able to come out here and get two wins with them," said Roberts.
Jacksonville started hot in the bottom of the first when a bases-loaded walk brought in the Dolphins' first run. However, it was the next play that lit the spark. Freshman Makenzie Buss took a 2-2 pitch over the center field fence for her first collegiate home run – and grand slam – to send the hosts ahead, 5-0.
"I've been working on my swing hard. Finally finding my swing these past couple of weekends and hitting a grand slam was just kind of the icing on top of the cake," said Buss.
Proving its prowess on the base paths in the bottom of the third, Jacksonville showed its love for the double-steal. With no outs, Jordan Daniels on third and Buss on first, the sign was given. Buss took off for second base on the pitch, while Daniels took off for home on the throw down and slid under the tag to make it 6-0 Dolphins.
The Tigers countered with three runs of their own in the next inning. An RBI double from Amanda McDowell got Savannah State on the board, while a Dolphin throwing error, followed by an RBI single brought the Tigers within 11-3.
Alyssa Bilodeau pitched herself out of the jam and got the next two outs swinging and popping out in foul territory to end the half inning.
Jacksonville added three more runs in the bottom of the frame to seal the 14-3 win.
Bilodeau allowed just one earned run and struck out four to improve to 8-6 in the circle.
The Dolphins pounded five hits, took advantage of five Tiger errors, drove in nine runs, and cycled through 13 batters before the first inning ended. Roberts and Daniels both drove in two runs to highlight the offensive outburst.
Savannah State's bats started going in the top of the second and the Tigers were able to get runners on second and third with one out to put pressure on the Dolphins. However, Madison Ragan kept her composure in the circle and got the next two Tigers out swinging to keep a goose egg on the board for the visitors.
The Dolphins cycled through the batting order for a second time in the bottom of the second and were able to tack on seven runs on seven hits – including RBI doubles from Bethany Kursch, Buss, and Ragan – before the inning ended prematurely due to a Dolphin runner leaving the base early.
Jacksonville added a final run in the bottom of the fourth when a sac fly from Roberts sent Carolyn O'Neal home.
Savannah State was able to push a run across with two outs in the top of the fifth, but Ragan was able to get the final Tiger to pop out to seal the 17-1 Dolphin victory.
Ragan tossed her fifth complete game of the season and struck out three to improve to 6-4 in the circle.
"The pitchers took huge strides today in being able to get stops when they needed it," beamed Steele, "For them to be able to get themselves out of their own jam showed incredible growth."
Kursch finished 4-for-6 at the plate with two doubles, while Daniels was 3-for-5 with a stolen base. Both drove in two runs apiece, while Allie McCourt, Danielle Baker, and Larrabee added an RBI each.
Jacksonville finished the doubleheader with a combined 30 hits between the two games and added six more stolen bases to extend its single-season record to 93 with nine games remaining in the regular season.
"It's not always easy to have good energy after a big first win; you can sometimes fall flat, but give credit to our spirit," added Steele. "We are peaking at the right time. We've always been a late-inning, late-season ball club and I don't expect anything different going into these last three conference series."
The Dolphins return to the diamond this weekend when they play host to USC Upstate for a crucial three-game ASUN Conference series beginning with a doubleheader Saturday, April 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. and close out the series with a single game on Sunday, April 23 at 1:00 p.m.