College softball: La. Tech takes #RustonStrong to Hattiesburg

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Robert Summerlin/Special to The Press-Tribune. The Louisiana Tech softball complex was severely damaged by the tornado that hit the campus in the early morning hours of Thursday, April 24. The scoreboard was destroyed.

Malcolm Butler, Louisiana Tech Associate Athletic Director/Communications

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – When Louisiana Tech travels to Mississippi to play its regular season finale series against Southern Miss this weekend, the Lady Techsters will do so with plenty at stake.

Tech (39-13, 17-4) enters the weekend with a chance to win the program’s first ever regular season title. And if that isn’t enough, the Lady Techsters continue to play for more than just themselves following the aftermath of last week’s tornado.

Over the past eight days, there has been a different feel around this team in the wake of the destructive tornados that tore through the Ruston community in the early hours a week ago Thursday.

Following a late season melt down in 2018, the 2019 version of the Lady Techster softball team entered the season with a purpose – to capture the title that it saw slip through its gloves a year ago.

However, eight days ago, that purpose shifted gears.

It was no longer about the team. It was no longer about the games.  It was no longer about just winning a championship.

No, these 18 Lady Techsters – who will all sport a sticker on their batting helmets over the remainder of the season with the words Ruston Strong on it – are now playing for an entire community.

A close-knit team became even closer over the past week as they saw a natural disaster bring out so much good in their school and their town.

“I’ve never been closer with a group of girls than I am with this group,” said senior outfielder Morgan Turkoly. “With (the tornado) the only thing it did was bring us closer together. It didn’t tear us apart at all. I can’t wait to go into these next few games with this group of girls. There is no one I would rather go into it with.”

That was evident by the team’s response last weekend. Just over 48 hours after the tornado destroyed the Lady Techster Softball Complex and so many residential areas and businesses in Ruston, Turkoly and Co. swept a three-game series in impressive fashion against then-league leading WKU.

With the wins, Tech (39-13, 17-4) moved into a two-way tie with North Texas.

The Lady Techsters will face Southern Miss starting with a doubleheader Saturday at 1 p.m. and a single game Sunday at 1 p.m. North Texas will be at home in Denton hosting Middle Tennessee State.

With one more win, Tech will hit the 40-win mark for only the sixth time in program history and the first time since 1995. One win will assure the Lady Techsters of a top two seed in the C-USA Tournament in Birmingham next week and a double bye into Thursday’s second day of the event.

“This group is going to Hattiesburg to play with a purpose and for a purpose,” said Tech head coach Mark Montgomery. “In all honesty, I don’t have to tell this group anything right now. We have a veteran group with great leaders.

“This team will play hard and will represent themselves, their school and their community with class. I am a proud coach and whatever happens, happens. All we want is the ability to determine the regular season championship on the field.”

Tech will be taking aspects of its former home with it this weekend. The team’s #AllAboard banner which hung on a light pole at the Lady Techster Softball Complex will be hanging in its dugout in Hattiesburg. The banner was found by a Ruston resident more than two miles from the Tech softball facility and returned to the team. It now serves as inspiration.

“What a strong reminder this banner is for us,” said Montgomery. “Here is a piece of cloth-type material that was carried with who knows what else by a tornado across our city. When you see all the destruction that was done by this tornado to steel, and concrete and trees, and yet this banner is found with just a small tear at the bottom of it. It serves as a powerful reminder of surviving great obstacles.”

The Lady Techsters will also take 10 plaques with each of their core values which hung in their home dugout: Accountability, Integrity, Resilient, Inspiring, Loyalty, Leadership, Passion, Knowledge, Selfless and Respect.

“We have seen so many of our core values displayed over the last week by our team,” said Montgomery. “We talk all the time about these being more than just words. These are values we want to live every day. We took the plaques to Monroe last weekend and they will travel with us the rest of this season.”

Southern Miss (29-19, 12-9 C-USA) enters the weekend sitting in third place in the West Division, basically having wrapped up the No. 5 seed in the upcoming C-USA Tournament in Birmingham. The Golden Eagles went on a 12-game winning streak a few weeks ago before dropping a mid-week to Ole Miss and losing three of its last four.

Fans can tune into a LA Tech broadcast of the games through the Louisiana Tech X mobile app. Fans can watch a video stream of the games through a paid subscription to CUSATV.com.