NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tigers softball coach Jeff Dabney announced the 2014 schedule. The slate features 27 home games, 10 games versus 2013 NCAA tournament participants and a 28 hour period against owners of five of the last eight National Championships.
“We always look to put the most competitive schedule together,” Dabney said. “I really want to force our team to work. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. Knowing that you got this national championship monster hovering just a couple months away has forced the kids to focus and forced them to want to improve.”
The second week of the season will begin with one of the toughest three-game spans in Division-I. The Tigers will face 2008 and 2011 National Champions, Arizona State, in a single game in Tempe on Feb. 13. The Sun Devils have been to the Women’s College World Series seven out of the last eight seasons and finished last year ranked 7th in the country. The trip continues the next day with the start of the Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson. The Tigers’ first two opponents on Feb. 14 are Arizona and Alabama. The Wildcats claimed back-to-back National Championships in 2006 and 2007, and were runner-ups in 2010. Arizona ended the 2013 ranked 32nd. The Crimson Tide secured their first title in 2012 and was ranked 10th in last year’s final poll.
“We wanted to challenge the kids.” Dabney commented. “We wanted to show them what National Championship caliber competition looks like. When we saw Alabama was going to be at the Arizona Tournament, as well as Georgia Tech, you are talking about former ACC champions, former SEC Champions, National Champions, and Arizona is Arizona; and then you add Arizona State on the front end, for about five minutes I was a little worried. Then I thought, ‘we have been trying to breed competitors around here’, well you can’t get any more competitive than that schedule. We have embraced it as a team. Anybody who wants to be a part of our program has to want to be in these types of games.”
The Tigers continue the tournament on Feb. 15 with games versus Grand Canyon and New Mexico, while closing out play in Tucson against Georgia Tech on Feb. 16.
The 2014 campaign begins in Nashville at the Music City Classic hosted by Lipscomb and Belmont. The Tigers open with ACC power Virginia Tech and Lipscomb on Feb. 8. The Hokies ended their season at Regionals and ranked 30th. The tournament concludes with games versus Miami (Ohio) and East Tennessee State.
TSU will open the home portion of their schedule as they host the Tiger Classic Feb.21-23. Youngstown State, Western Michigan, Temple, Dayton and Indiana State will visit the Land of Golden Sunshine.
The Tigers will travel to Statesboro, Ga., for their final non-conference tournament Feb. 28-Mar. 2. The Eagle Classic will supply a game versus Troy, two versus Middle Tennessee State and two versus the host Georgia Southern. The Eagles are coming off their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
Coach Dabney’s squad will begin an eight-game home stand at Tiger Field on Mar. 4 as they host Holy Cross for a doubleheader. Ohio will be the opponent for a single game on Mar. 5 before hosting the Tiger Invitational Mar. 7-9. The format will consist of pool play against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, North Carolina A&T and Saint Louis, followed by bracket play over the final two days.
Just before the start of Ohio Valley Conference play, the Tigers will once again face one of the nation’s best as they travel to Georgia on Mar. 12 for a single game. The Bulldogs have been to three of the last six WCWS and advanced to Regionals last season. UGA finished 2013 ranked 22nd in the country.
The journey to reach the OVC tournament for the first time since 2001 begins Mar. 15-16 with a three-game home series against Eastern Kentucky. During OVC play, the Tigers will also host Murray State (Mar. 22 doubleheader), OVC tournament champion Jacksonville State (Mar.29-30 three game series), SIU Edwardsville (Apr. 18 doubleheader) and OVC regular season champion Eastern Illinois (Apr. 19 doubleheader).
The final non-conference match-up is a twin bill with Samford at Tiger Field. The former OVC member will come to town on Apr. 9.
“I wanted to play more games at home to give our fans a chance to see us play more,” said Dabney. “We are trying to build our fan base and we give TSU and Nashville a team that can play and a solid form of entertainment. Nashville is a great place to recruit too and bring teams; people want to play here. I would not be surprised if it is the most games we have played on campus in one season in program history. 27 is perfect amount.”
TSU returns six position players, two pitchers and nine letterwinners from last year’s team. The Tigers complete their squad with eight newcomers.