What was maybe the best softball season in Middle Tennessee history came to a close over the weekend as the Blue Raiders fell in NCAA regional action to Oregon State.
After a weather delay halted the Saturday start more than three hours, MT fell down early and never recovered, losing 4-0.
The blue and white conclude the season with a 39-22 record, the second-most single-season wins in program history. After being predicted to finish 11th in Conference USA in the preseason, they captured their first C-USA Tournament title as the six seed en route to their second regional appearance ever.
"We're not going to let this setback damper what we did all season long, because our body of work was really good," Middle Tennessee head coach Jeff Breeden said. "Everybody here in Tuscaloosa did a great job hosting this site."
As has become an unfortunate occurrence in MT's brief regional history, its bats couldn't find enough juice to take down the Beavers (29-27) at Alabama's Rhoads Stadium.
The Blue Raiders got bats to pitches, only striking out three times, but managed just two hits against Oregon State starter Meehra Nelson.
"I don't know if we spent so much energy getting here or what ... but we aren't going to make excuses for it," Breeden said. "We just didn't do a very good job. Hats off to their pitcher, and they have a good team and have been playing very high-caliber ball all year long."
With her offense struggling to find momentum, Middle Tennessee senior starter Cori Jennings did her best to keep things tight.
The C-USA Tournament MVP and all-conference first-teamer allowed OSU just two runs through six innings before a double in the top of the seventh scored two more.
Jennings went six innings, giving up nine hits and four earned runs while striking out two and walking four.
It was a much better outing for the southpaw than in the first game of the regional, when on Friday against No. 12 Alabama she lasted just 2.1 innings.
"She did a good job today," Breeden said. "We've ridden hard on Cori for about a month now. She's a battler ... and I don't think she has anything to hold her head down at all about. When it's all said and done, she's a big part of this senior class."
Despite struggling at the plate during the regional, the Blue Raiders experienced one of the best offensive seasons in program history.
Led by seniors Precious Birdsong and Morgan Harris and sophomores Lexi Cushing and Summer Burgess, MT finished with a program-record .300 batting average and 476 hits. It also finished second in runs (266), RBIs (233), on-base percentage (.359) and steal percentage (.862); third in slugging percentage (.414) and total bases (661); and fourth with 35 home runs and 94 steals.
Individually, Cushing set a new program single-season home run (14) and RBI (48) record, and Harris set a new career RBIs mark (111).
Birdsong may leave as the best to ever don the Blue Raider uniform. The Chattanooga native finished as the program's leader in numerous offensive categories, including singles, hits, runs, triples, steals and attempted steals. She's also second in total bases, on-base percentage and walks and third in slugging percentage.
"[Being at Middle Tennessee] has literally turned me into the person that I am today," Birdsong said. "Middle Tennessee has done literally everything for me, and I just wanted to do it in return. I wanted to be the best person I could be on and off the field and give all I could to my team, my coaches, my community."
The Middle Tennessee seniors leave as one of the most successful classes in program history, garnering six all-conference first or second team accolades in their four years.
Despite going winless in the regional, they know what they accomplished this year means more than just the 39 wins. They'll leave a lasting legacy for all future Blue Raiders to follow.
"We set out to win a conference championship, and we were able to do that," Harris said. "We worked very hard and turned the culture of this program around, and Coach Breeden has been able to instill in the community that we can be a winning program. I hope we leave this legacy behind."