Last weekend, the Memphis Tigers (15-13, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) participated in a five-game tournament called the Tiger Classic where they walked away with a record of 3-2. The Tigers entered the weekend winning seven of their last eight games.
Tigers start off with 0-2
Play for the Tigers began with a double header against the North Alabama Lions and the Murray State Racers. They had just suffered a loss earlier in the week to Ole Miss, 0-8, and took a hit to their confidence.
They were defeated by the Lions first in a low scoring 1-2 affair. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Tigers’ left fielder Baylee Smith hit a single in the bottom of right fielder Gracie Morton to be batted in for the score.
The Tigers maintained the 1-0 lead until the top of the seventh inning, when Lions’ center fielder Meleah Hargett doubled to centerfield, which scored her team two RBIs after both shortstop Riley Honeycutt and right fielder Jessie Brown to cross home plate. Memphis was unable to score in the bottom of the seventh, resulting in the defeat.
In their next game against the Racers, the Tigers improved their runs batted in, but they still lost 3-6. The Tigers had strong hitting nights from center fielder Delaney Smith and left fielder Baylee Smith , who both led the team with three hits at four at bats. Delaney was one of three players who hit an RBI. Murray State had strong first and seventh innings where they scored three runs in each.
When Tigers’ head coach Natalie Poole spoke with the media, she talked about how tough the loss had been.
“It definitely felt great,” Poole said. “I think anytime you see us drop a game, sometimes it’s going to happen. But to drop three in a row, especially two that we felt like we could have won, was pretty frustrating.”
Tigers defeat top-10 ranked Texas Tech
To end their three-game losing streak, they had to overcome tough competition. Their first opponent Saturday was the Texas Tech Raiders, who at the time were 26-1 and the 10th ranked softball team in the nation.
Despite the odds against them, Memphis came out swinging and earned three runs in the first inning. Texas Tech fought back to make the score 2-3 in the third inning after a home run by center field Karli Hamilton, who scored both herself and designated player Miranda Padilla.
Memphis expanded the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning after C. Regan Hadley hit a home run down right-center to score herself and designated player Ryleigh Aungst, bringing the score to 5-2. Texas Tech scored a run in the top of the seventh but couldn’t do enough to bounce back.
Memphis ended up winning the game 5-3 and posted their first victory over a top-10 ranked opponent in program history. Poole talked about the upset victory and attributed much of it to a strong start.
“It means a lot to score in any game,” Poole said. “Having something to work with is important. It’s always a good thing to have a little bit of a cushion for our pitcher, so they can go out there and be relaxed.”
Runs coming in bunches for the Tigers
The Tigers went on to win their last three games of the tournament against the Texas Tech Raiders (5-3), Maine Black Bears (8-2) and the Murray State Racers (9-5). They scored a combined 22 runs in the last three games. Their highest total over a three-game span this season.
“We’ve just been staying focused on the process,” Poole said. “We know that we have to be aggressive and have an aggressive mentality. When we come out passively, that’s when we get ourselves behind and sometimes. We get a bit anxious, which is what we saw earlier in the weekend.”
Two different Memphis teams stepped foot on the field this weekend.The first seemed overwhelmed and unable to get stops defensively, and the second was aggressive and played as a cohesive unit.
The victory over Texas Tech may not grab national attention, but it should be a catalyst for a team hovering over .500. They have a lot of young talent and if they can all manage to stay healthy and keep focus, there’s no limit to where they can go.
Poole spoke about the importance of beginning conference play with he media and said that the key to getting an advantage is to focus on the little things.
“It’s important to get things started on the right foot,” Poole said. “We talked about what that looks like and what we have to do to get ourselves off to a good start in conference.”
This weekend, the Tigers begin conference play in a three-game homestand against ECU, a team that is 18-11 and on a two-game win streak. With the current play of the Tigers, I expect them to win at least two of their three scheduled games.