Lady Techsters still a hit in a season that’s ended

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BATON ROUGE — The day was a long one, but it and the season ended in a flash.

Louisiana Tech’s record-setting, run-producing offense had waited out a 13-inning, 4-hours-and-25-minutes LSU win over Texas Tech, 5-4, in the first game of the second day of the Baton Rouge Regional Saturday, then had sneaked by Monmouth University, 1-0, to reach the finals of the loser’s bracket.

And here they were, with one last chance, midnight knocking at the door.

Tech trailed Texas Tech 3-1. The tying run, senior Berkley Calapp, at the plate. Meghan Robicheaux, pinch running for hobbled catcher Marilyn Fizzato, at first.

Two outs. Count full.

Kailey Anderson, a sophomore pressed into starting duty because of injuries, was on deck. Conference USA Coach of the Year Mark Montgomery in the coaching box at third, his arms crossed on his chest, helpless, a prisoner now of whatever the moment might bring. Players poised on the dugout steps.

The 3-2 pitch from Red Raider starter Missy Zoch. To the outside and upper part of the zone. Good swing. The pop of the ball on leather and then the dust from catcher Kelcy Leach’s mitt.

And that was it.

Game over.

Season done.

Bat thrown toward the dugout. Then the helmet. Players, still alive a moment before, leaning on the dugout railing and hopeful, now dead men walking, lining up to shake hands. It was all sort of mechanical, the opposite of the vitality that had brought this team C-USA regular-season and tournament championships…and to the regional.

“What’d we get, five or six hits the whole tournament?” asked Montgomery. “Do that and you’re not going to be as successful as you want to be.

“We were fortunate,” he said, “to win one game here.”

He was right. His run-producing softball team picked a bad time to stop hitting, like the Titantic folk picked a bad time to go on a cruise or Custer picked a bad time to take the guys on a pony ride.

The Lady Techsters broke a big pile of single-season individual and team offensive records this year on its way to a 45-15 record—the program’s most wins in 30 years—and a program-record 19 league wins.

So it was both surprising and more than a little frustrating that in the regional Friday and Saturday, the Lady Techsters couldn’t have fallen out of a boat and hit water.

Tech went 6-for-64 at the plate in its three games at Tiger Park. The Lady Techsters were one-hit in Friday’s 3-0 loss to Texas Tech, beat Monmouth University 1-0 Saturday evening—you rarely win with just two hits, but Tech did it—then managed three hits but still lost to Texas Tech again in the loser’s bracket Saturday night, the 3-1 finale.

The Lady Techsters were trending in the right direction—one hit in the first game, two in the second, three in the third—but it was way too little, despite gallant Regional-worthy pitching and defensive performances.

It was like watching Pink struggle to sing, like watching Brad Paisley forget how to tune his guitar.

“We pitched pretty well; played good defense,” Montgomery said. “Just didn’t hit. We’ll learn from this and grow as a program, hopefully figure out how to take the next step.”

“Obviously, we struggled,” said a red-eyed Morgan Turkoly, the C-USA 2018 Player of the Year, a senior who’d played her final game and who had half her team’s hits in the Regional. “The pitching steps up when you’re at this level. It was tough to get a pitch to hit. What we were doing wasn’t working for us.”

Until the fifth inning of Tech’s third game of the Regional—the second loss to Texas Tech—nobody not named Morgan Turkoly had gotten a base hit for the Lady Techsters. In the entire Regional. Which was at that point, in Tech time, two games, four innings, and two outs old.

But against the Red Raiders in the fifth is when pinch hitter Mary Terral got on with an infield single—any port in a storm—and spoiled the no-hitter Texas Tech starter Missy Zoch had going.

With two outs, an error on the Texas Tech shortstop and clever baserunning by the Techsters allowed Bayli Simon, who’d reached on a fielder’s choice, to score and tie the game at 1-1.

That was the score in the top of the seventh when Louisiana Tech third baseman Lindsay Edwards, C-USA’s Freshman of the Year, threw a ground ball away and allowed the hitter, Heaven Burton, to reach third. It was the Lady Techsters’ only error of the weekend, but when a hitting team is not hitting, the margin of error is tissue-paper thin.

A double on a 3-2 pitch from Preslee Gallaway by Texas Tech All-American Jessica Hartwell, the same Jessica Hartwell who’d managed the game-winning hit in the Red Raiders’ 3-0 victory over Louisiana Tech in the regional opener, gave the team from Texas a 2-1 lead.

Another double by cleanup hitter Trenity Edwards on a 3-1 pitch increased the lead to 3-1.

“Seeing what Jess did pumped me up,” she said.

And that was pretty much it. Zoch pitched around a one-out base hit by Simon in the bottom of the seventh for her first complete game since April 7.

Somewhat miraculously, the Lady Techsters earned the opportunity to play Texas Tech by pulling a rabbit out of a hat earlier in the day with the 1-0 win over Monmouth, a rising program that won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament behind the arm of sophomore Alyssa Irons, a hard-luck loser Friday to LSU, 2-0, and Saturday to Louisiana Tech, 1-0. The Hawks out-hit Tech 8-2 and stranded eight baserunners. Turkoly’s two-out base hit to shallow left didn’t even bend the grass, but it was enough to score Kimmie Atienza, who’d walked and swiped second.

“Alyssa pitched fantastic,” said her coach, Shannon Salsburg, whose team stranded eight baserunners. “We just didn’t get the timely hits. It was just that one seeing-eye single…that was the game.”

Irons finished the season 30-12 and should get roses from her teammates every day during the offseason.

Heartbreaking.

And that’s probably the same word to use for the way it ended for Louisiana Tech. 2019 CUSA Player of the Year Jaz Crowder was hitless, but so were all but four of her teammates. It didn’t help that Zoe Hicks was on the bench with the broken leg she suffered at UTEP last month or that Sloane Stewartson was reduced to warming up pitchers in the bullpen because she hurt her knee celebrating her team’s win in the conference tournament, an event that left Montgomery wondering whether or not he should have had his team practice post-game euphoria.

Those two mishaps meant 60 RBIs weren’t able to play this weekend. So the lineup that won the league wasn’t the same lineup that lost the regional.

But so goes the game, and the regional fizzle can’t dismiss what this senior class accomplished, which is 147 wins and a couple of regional appearances.

“I couldn’t be prouder of a group,” Montgomery said. “This senior class has taken this program to new heights. This is the group that took the program to the next level, then elevated it to the next level after that. They’ve raised the bar for every other player who comes here. They’ll be remembered for a long, long time.”

Turkoly, Tech’s left fielder and an all-star player who excelled in the classroom, gave Tech fans—they were plentiful and vocal in Baton Rouge—much to remember.

“Obviously I’m emotional right now; I’m done playing a game I’ve played for 17 years,” she said only a few minutes after the end of a career that began when she fell with her little sis on her back and broke her left arm just before leaving her house for what would have been her first tee ball game. Missed the season.

“I didn’t know which hand she was going to throw with so I had two gloves,” said her dad, David. “Instead of going to the game, we went to the emergency room and got two pins in her arm.”

After the game, the team sang the alma mater with the fans, met in left field, then went into the stands. David had gone outside the stadium to meet his daughter, who’d gone into the bleachers. “Where’s my dad?” she kept asking.

“I guess I walked around the stadium 13 times looking for her,” he said.

They found each other. A hug. Smiles. And then David’s grown-up tee ball player walking toward the bus where her final group of teammates, the last in a long line, waited.

The endings of long and happy chapters are never easy.

“I’m just sad,” David said, “that’s it’s over.”

“What Tech has meant to me is beyond words,” Turkoly said. “I’ve grown on the field and off the field. All our fans, the staff, my teammates…I have all of them to thank for that.”

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