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Analysis: Թϱ softball finishes Gamecock Invitational with 4-1 record

The No. 17 Թϱ softball team hosted the Gamecock Invitational at Beckham Field from Feb. 23 to 25. The Gamecocks finished the weekend with 4-1 record, earning wins over Massachusetts, James Madison and Charlotte. The team suffered a 5-2 loss to South Alabama. With the series, the team advanced to 13-2 on the season.

The No. 17 Թϱ softball team hosted the Gamecock Invitational from Feb. 23 to 25, playing in five games and finishing the weekend with a 4-1 record. The team improved its overall mark on the season to 13-2.

Թϱ cruised to victory in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, defeating Massachusetts 9-0 after five innings due to a mercy rule. Despite a near two-hour weather delay during the bottom of the second, Թϱ’s rampant offense jumped out to a 5-0 lead early and didn’t look back.

The second game of the doubleheader was a victory for the Gamecocks in walk-off fashion. The team defeated James Madison 3-2 behind a sacrifice fly from redshirt senior outfielder Kianna Jones. The win was a comeback for Թϱ, as the team trailed the entire game until the seventh inning.

The Gamecocks lost its only game of the weekend on Saturday in a 5-2defeat to South Alabama. Թϱ strung together seven hits and led for much of the contest, but a three-run sixth inning for the Jaguars proved to be too much to overcome late in the game.

Թϱ rebounded in its second matchup of the weekend against Massachusetts, picking up another victory over the Minutemen, this time by a 5-0 score. Sophomore pitcher Jori Heard picked up her third win of the season with a complete-game shutout, allowing just two hits and striking out six batters over seven innings pitched.

Offensive dominance propelled the Gamecocks to a 7-2 victory on Sunday over the Charlotte Knights. A three-run third inning helped build momentum for the rest of the game. Freshman pitcher Reganne Bennett continued her impressive start to her college career with a home run in the third inning and three RBIs.

Թϱ will head into its next midweek contest with a few key takeaways from this weekend’s slate of games.

The Gamecocks may have a freshman phenom on its hands

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Bennett was Թϱ's star player in the matchup against Massachusetts. The freshman pitched five shutout frames for the entire game while recording three strikeouts and allowing just two hits.

You don’t see many players that do it on both sides of the ball like that,” head coach Beverly Smith said. “The fact that she can hit a home run in her game to help the win is big time.”

The game marked the second time in Bennett’s career that she hit a home run while pitching five shutout innings. The first came in a 6-4 victory against UC San Diego on Feb. 17, where she homered twice.

’v gotten so much support from my teammates, and they give me a lot of confidence to go out there and play well and play relaxed," Bennett said. “I know that they believe in me.”

Along with having three home runs in only 13 at bats so far this season, Bennett has an ERA of 0.50 in 14 innings pitched. She has 11 strikeouts and has only allowed one earned run.

Offense strings hits together at most crucial time

Թϱ’s runs were hard earned in its victory against James Madison. The Dukes' starting pitcher, senior Alissa Humphrey, shut the offense down through the first six innings, allowing one run on two hits. But the Gamecocks were able to spark together two runs on three hits in the final frame to come away with the win.

The rally began with a sharp double down the first base line from freshman second baseman Karley Shelton, her third extra-base hit of the season. Her at bat was followed by a sacrifice bunt from senior catcher Jen Cummings, moving Shelton to third base. Junior shortstop Brooke Blankenship then singled up the middle to score the tying run.

You have to like the fight that we were down and not out,” Smith said. “I love the fact that our offense was able to just really come back and score in the last inning to win it, which was giant.”

The lineup turned over to senior outfielder Riley Blampied, who ripped a single to center field and moved Blankenship to third base. Jones then came up to the plate with runners in scoring position and only one out with a chance to win the game for the Gamecocks.

Jones hit a fly ball to left field, just deep enough for Blankenship to tag up and score for the walk-off win. Jones, who scored the first run of the game after doubling off the left field wall, played hero ball for Թϱ after the team made numerous hits when it mattered most, she said.

We strung together a couple of hits, and we just kind of got going in the bottom of the seventh,” Jones said. “I think that was a very exciting thing for our team to just come together and get some key hits in key times.”

A dynamic pitching duo is blossoming

Heard and fifth-year Alana Vawter pitched an impressive game against Charlotte on Sunday, giving up just two total runs between the two of them.

Heard started on the mound for the Gamecocks. She threw a strikeout on first at bat and allowed one walk through the first. Charlotte hit a deep ball to center field to go up 1-0, but the team's lead would not last long. Its only other run came at the top of the fourth inning.

Two ground outs and a strikeout opened up the defense in the top of the second inning. Heard started to come into her own with solid effort in the third inning. 

Vawter came in for Heard at the middle of the fourth. She threw a strikeout on her first batter to keep the Gamecocks in a comfortable four-run lead. Vawter threw a no-hitter for the 3.1 innings she pitched. 

What's next?

Թϱ will stay at home for a midweek contest against the College of Charleston on Wednesday at 5 p.m. The game will be available to stream on SEC Network+.


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