Panthers begin OVC play with Belmont

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

The games do not count for as much in non-conference play, but that still should not take away from what the Eastern softball team did in that portion of its schedule.

The Panthers played well in non-conference play finishing with a 20-8 record and sporting a team OBP of .355 and an ERA of 2.60.

That being the case, the Panthers will try and translate what they did in the non-conference portion of this schedule when they open conference play this weekend with road doubleheaders against both Belmont on Saturday and Tennessee State Sunday.

The Panthers beat power-five conference teams such as Iowa and Texas during non-conference play, and outside of two games, looked like a team that is ready to compete with any opponent.

However, it is no secret that conference games and opponents bring a whole new level of expectation and heightened level of play to the diamond. Which is exactly why the fact that Belmont finished 19-4 and Tennesse State finished 3-24 in non-conference play does not matter much in this first weekend.

Statistically speaking, every area Eastern has been good in this season, Belmont has been a notch better.

The Bruins have a team ERA of 1.44 and an OBP of .377. Both of those numbers lead the conference.

Having just been named OVC co-pitcher of the week, the Bruins pitching staff is led by sophomore Brooklin Lee who sports a 1.18 ERA and has 108 strikeouts.

In the game the Panthers do not draw Lee on the mound they will be faced with no easier task in the form of pitcher Lexi Rouse (1.26 ERA).

Rouse will look to make an impact on the field whether or not she is on the mound. The senior leads the team with a .815 slugging percentage, a .462 OBP and seven homeruns.

Facing Belmont on any day is tough enough already, but on Saturday the Bruins will be at home and looking to extends its seven-game win streak.

“Belmont is tough. Belmont has couple of good pitchers and they’re playing really well right now. But honestly we talked a little bit about their pitchers (in practice), otherwise we are going to keep doing what we’re doing,” coach Kim Schuette said.

After the Belmont games, Eastern will stay in Nashville to play Tennessee State.

The Tigers are on a much different path that the Bruins. Tennessee State is on an eight-game losing streak and has not been putting up numbers on either side of the ball to be desired.

Tennessee State is hitting .226, has a low .315 OBP and a team ERA of 7.25. Quite the night and day difference from the Bruins.

No matter who the Panthers are playing, Schuette just wants her team to focus on playing the game.

“My job and our assistant coaches job is to prepare the (scouting report) and to be strategic in to how to beat them that way. Otherwise I want our kids to just see the ball, hit the ball, field the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball and just play the game,” Schuette said. “We’ve done a pretty okay job at just playing the ball game and adjusting as we need to.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]