[title_box title=”Softball Vols in SEC action against Mississippi State”]
The No. 19 Tennessee softball team will welcome the No. 25 Mississippi State Bulldogs to Sherri Parker Lee Stadium for a weekend SEC match-up starting on Friday.
The Vols will be looking to regain momentum they established when the swept Arkansas in a three-game series to open SEC play, before being swept by No. 1 Florida last weekend.
This won’t just be an important early season SEC match-up, it will also be a important top 25 meeting. For two teams with high expectations this season, there is a need to find some early success in the SEC, so this series is the most important one yet.
For Tennessee to find success, it will have to find a way to get hits off of a pesky Bulldogs pitching staff. So far this season, the Bulldogs have used six pitchers and have a staff ERA of 1.34 and a 20-8 record. State’s pitchers have also recorded 177 strikeouts in 198 innings of work.
The Bulldogs are led in the circle by Regan Green and Holly Ward. The pair has handled the bulk of the work load so far this season. Green has an ERA of 1.06 and Ward has a 1.16 ERA so far this year.
The Vols’ pitching staff will have to bring their A game to match what State can do in the circle and it is possible that this series could turn into a three-day pitching duel.
Offensively, the Bulldogs they have six players hitting .300 or better so far this season. Katie Anne Bailey leads the team with a .360 batting average and has recorded 20 RBI’s. The Bulldogs do not hit a ton of home runs. So far this season, they have only nine.
However, they are very talented at the plate. They have recorded 112 RBI’s already this season and are hitting .278 as a team. They can be prone to striking out (138 strikeouts as a team so far), which should benefit Tennessee’s pitchers.
Speaking of Tennessee’s pitchers, senior pitcher Erin Gabriel threw her second ever perfect game Tuesday night in a 10-0 win over Jacksonville.
Gabriel has had an up and down career at times on Rocky Top, but has battled more than her fair share of injuries. Now that she is finally healthy, she is already showing flashes of greatness.
She has started 18 of Tennessee’s 30 games so far this season and has a 2.28 ERA to go along with a 12-3 record. Gabriel has also recorded 103 strikeouts so far. As a staff, the Vols have 201, giving Gabriel just over half of the team’s strikeouts.
The Vols will likely lean on her again this weekend, but look for senior Rainey Gaffin and freshman Matty Moss to see time in the circle as well.
Tennessee is off to a great start in the circle, as well as the plate this season. The Vols have nine players hitting over .300 so far and are batting .336 as a team.
Senior Lexi Overstreet is leading the team with a batting average of .388 and has a slugging percentage of .775. She has hit a team-high seven home runs and 33 RBI’s.
For Tennessee to win this series, it will have a pretty simple formula. Stay positive at the plate and let the pitching staff do what they do.
Game times for the weekend are set for Friday at 6 p.m. ET, Saturday at 2 p.m. ET and Sunday and 2 p.m. ET. All three games can be seen on the SEC Network plus channel.
Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics
Edited by Cody McClure
Sam Forman is the lead sports staff writer for the Tennessee Journalist and is a senior studying Journalism and Electronic Media with a focus on sports broadcasting and reporting. He has been with TNJN since the fall of 2014. He is also a DJ for WUTK 90.3 fm. and a member of the Rock Solid Sports team. Sam has spent six years marching in the Pride of The Southland Marching Band. When he is not covering or talking sports, you can find him outdoors, playing music or hanging out with friends. You can find him on twitter: @samWforman