It took some time for the softball team to shake the rust off this season, but after a tough first week, it's back and ready to play.
In the five games played in the Georgia Classic over the weekend, the Bulls (2-8) came away with two wins, which were the team's first of the season.
In their first game of the Classic, the Bulls forced Marshall University into extra innings, trumping them in a 5-4 nailbiter. Throughout the game, the Bulls stayed close to Marshall, getting and maintaining an early lead into the fifth inning before Marshall tied it up at four runs apiece.
Freshman pitcher Tori Speckman closed the game in only her second appearance this season. She faced 14 batters and struck out four of them.
While Speckman kept up the defense, it was sophomore infielder Ashley Bertot who had the offensive magic. Bertot stole home plate to give the Bulls the win.
The team could not carry momentum coming off of the victory, as it fell 8-0 against No. 2 nationally ranked Georgia (10-0) later in the afternoon. The defensive prowess Speckman showed in the previous game was nonexistent against Georgia, as she gave up six runs in only three innings of work.
Head coach Jennifer Teague maintained high spirits about the overall performance in the first day's results, especially in how well the pitching staff performed.
"After the win against Marshall, I was feeling really good," Teague said. "I felt like we were playing as a team and I thought it was great that we started off this weekend with a win. Then, right after we played Marshall, we sat out for two hours and then played the second-best team in the country. I think we did really well against Georgia, especially in pitching. They're just phenomenal hitters."
The Bulls split their second day at the Classic as well, starting off with a loss against North Carolina State (6-4), 6-1. The Wolfpack limited Buffalo to just one run in the sixth inning, which was scored by Bertot after sophomore infielder Jessica Griffin launched a single into right field.
Junior Holly Johnson was the hero of the second game of the day, pitching her first shutout in a 1-0 win against Winthrop (3-7). Johnson ended the game with a season-high seven strikeouts, one coming at a critical time in the second inning when Winthrop had runners on second and third. With the threat of an early lead, the pressure was all on Johnson to keep the game scoreless. She pitched the final strikeout of the inning, keeping the Eagles offense at bay.
When it comes to critical moments like that, Teague is confident in putting all of her faith in the hands of Johnson and her pitching staff.
"When she's on fire, it's going to be hard for us to lose," Teague said. "Our pitching staff has the skills to run our conference. It's just a matter of training them and honing their skills and teaching them that. I'm very encouraged by our pitching. If we can stay with it, I think we're going to be all right."
The weekend ended in a 2-0 loss to North Dakota (3-7) on Sunday. Despite several attempts at making a run, getting to second base on multiple attempts, North Dakota pitcher Randi Parks was able to keep the Bulls' offense at bay.
Although the weekend ended with fewer wins than she would have liked, Teague sees it as a positive. The team had a chance to look at elite competition and will grow from it.
"We're a very fast team," Teague said. "What we need to do is get better with the play at the plate. A lot of that comes with the mentality we bring to the plate and the mentality we bring to the field, and that's what we're going to work on in the next week before we go to Marshall."
Teague talked about playing games before conference play starts after the tournament.
"This is why we play these preseason games: to see where our weaknesses are, and then we tailor our practices to our weaknesses to improve them," Teague said. "We saw some weaknesses this weekend, and we're going to get better in the next week and a half."
The team has a break from traveling this weekend to rest before it returns to the diamond on March 5 at the Marshall Tournament in Huntington, W.Va. There, the Bulls will meet Marshall twice and will also face off against Presbyterian and Mid-American Conference rivals Kent State (3-6).
First pitch against Presbyterian is at 9 a.m.