A look around the OVC

Eastern sits in eighth in OVC standings

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Jacksonville State has dominated Ohio Valley Conference play midway through the conference portion of each team’s schedule. The Gamecocks remained perfect in OVC play after a weekend sweep of Southeast Missouri and Tennessee-Martin to make their record 14-0.

The Gamecocks have everything going for them right now. They have a stacked lineup with eight players batting over .300, including four over .350.

Ella Denes has been Jacksonville State’s best hitter posting a .398 batting average in 128 at bats. She also leads the team with those 128 at bats.

Emily Church has been the Gamecock’s biggest run producer having driven in 33 runs on 32 hits. She also is hitting .327.

Whitney Gillespie has been a dominant force in the circle for the Gamecocks holding an 8-1 record with a 1.46 ERA. Her ERA is good enough to lead the OVC over Hayley Flynn of Eastern Kentucky who has an ERA of 1.78.

Gillespie also has the least amount of losses in the OVC and has held opposing batters to a .181 average.

Eastern Kentucky was right there with them heading into this past weekend until they met with 4-6 Eastern. The Panthers stole two wins from who was the top team in the conference heading into the weekend.

The Panthers went 12 innings with the Colonels and won the first game of a doubleheader 1-0. Eastern’s bats came alive in the second game of the day putting up seven runs on a tough Eastern Kentucky team.  The Colonels had yet to give up more than four runs to any other OVC team.

Eastern Kentucky got back to its winning ways the next day with an 8-1 win over Southern Illinois Edwardsville.

Sophomore pitcher Jessica Wireman was arguably the biggest reason why Eastern won the 12-inning showdown with the Colonels.

Wireman fanned 22 batters in her 12 innings of work, a career day for the sophomore. Her performance earned her third OVC pitcher of the week honor of the season.

Wireman leads the OVC in innings pitched with 139. Also pitching in that 12-inning game for Eastern Kentucky was Hayley Flynn. Flynn had 23 strikeouts in that game, which propelled her to leading every pitcher in the OVC in strikeouts with 165. Wireman is third with 131.

Flynn also leads the OVC in wins with 18.

Besides Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky easily holding the first and second spots in the OVC standings, the rest of the teams are in a tight race to earn one of the eight spots to send them to the OVC tournament.

Tennessee-Martin, Murray State and Belmont all have 7-7 records. Eastern has only played 12 games because of Sunday’s doubleheader with Morehead State was rained out.

Morehead State is in third with a 7-5 record and Southern Illinois Edwardsville is right behind them in fourth at 7-6.

Austin Peay and Tennessee State have really struggled halfway through with 2-12 records. Both teams sit at the bottom of the standings.

Morehead State is the home of Robyn Leighton, who has the highest batting average in the OVC at .421. She also leads the OVC in slugging percentage and on base percentage.

Tennessee-Martin’s Katie Warrick leads the OVC in runs batted in with 37. She also leads the OVC with homeruns with nine. Senior first baseman Kylie Bennett leads the Panthers offense with six.

Denes has also shown some speed out of the box as she leads the OVC in doubles with 13. But Courtney Gearlds’ three triples have her leading that category.

Behind the plate, Eastern sophomore Ashlynne Paul has thrown out 13 runners trying to steal, which is good enough to share the conference lead with Jocelynn Rodgers of Murray State.

Paul threw out three key runners in the 12-inning game with Eastern Kentucky Saturday.

The season is starting wind down as most teams have around 12 games remaining and with the race being so tight, every game from here on out is more important than ever.

Southeast Missouri, Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State and Austin Peay are on the outside looking in. If the season ended today, neither of them would have a spot in the tournament.

For the first time in the tournament’s 23-year history, it will be held at a neutral site rather than on the top team’s campus. The tournament will be held in Oxford, Ala. May 11-14.

 

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]