CHARLESTON, Ill – Freshman Tiffany Harbin tossed the Ohio Valley Conference Softball Tournament's first no-hitter and pitched the Gamecocks into Saturday's championship game and a 4-0 win over Southeast Missouri on Friday.
A freshman from Hazel Green, Ala., Harbin needed just 84 pitches, 59 of which were strikes, to complete her second no-no of the season. She took a perfect game into the seventh and after retiring the first two batters, issued a five-pitch walk to Carmen Fowler to break up her bid for perfection. She bounced back to get Renee Kertz to ground out on the next pitch to cap her gem and lift the second-seeded Gamecocks (38-18) into Saturday's 12:30 p.m. title game.
The Redhawks (30-28) only saw a three-ball count four times against Harbin, only twice before the seventh inning. Harbin fanned five batters and improved to 24-9 on the year to claim sole possession of second place in wins in a single season by a JSU pitcher and the most since Ann Shelton's school-record 28 in 1996.
The Gamecocks wasted no time jumping on Redhawks starter and Second Team All-OVC performer Alora Marble. A pair of SEMO errors got the first inning going and the Gamecocks answered with five hits to plate four unearned runs. They chased Marble after RBI singles from Kristin Graham, Abbey Stepp, Sallie Beth Burch and Hayden Crawford tacked them to a 4-0 lead.
Marble (17-8) suffered the loss in the circle after surrendering four unearned runs on five hits in just two-thirds of an inning. Taylor Cowan came in and cooled off the JSU offense for the final 5.1 innings. She held the Gamecocks scoreless on just two hits and retired 10-straight batters at one point.
Sophomore Kelci Johnston went 2-for-3 for the Gamecock offense, her 13th multi-hit game of the season and her second in as many days. The native of Northport, Ala., tripled in the second inning, her team-leading second three-bagger of the year.
Graham also reached twice, thanks to an RBI single and a walk.
The fifth-seeded Redhawks fall into the loser's bracket of the six-team double-elimination tournament and will face the loser of Friday night's Eastern Illinois/UT Martin showdown at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The winner of that game will have to defeat JSU twice to win the tournament and earn the league's automatic bid to next week's NCAA Tournament.