After struggling the last few weeks, the UTEP softball team rebounded to win two big Conference USA contests.
Kacey Duffield’s walk-off, three-run home run in the ninth downed UTSA, 5-4, after falling behind 4-2 in the top half, while Courtney Clayton’s four RBI led the Miners (13-23, 3-8 C-USA) past the Roadrunners (14-15, 3-5 C-USA), 8-5, in game two to complete the Friday sweep and series win at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.
“It’s good to get back on track. I know it’s been a rough couple weeks, but I’m just so proud of this team that they haven’t given up,” fifth-year UTEP head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “There’s still a lot of season left and I told them it’s a matter of time when we start hitting the ball again. We did a great job today. We had good at bats and made solid contact. I’m just happy we got the wins and everyone did their job.”
The victories stopped a five-game losing streak, while it was the first time since 2016 UTEP defeated a league opponent in consecutive games. The Miners swept North Texas (April 30-May 1) in 2016.
UTEP last won consecutive C-USA games in 2017, defeating Middle Tennessee on March 19 and then Southern Miss on March 25. The Miners also reached 13 wins in 2018, passing their total from last season’s 12 wins.
UTEP 5, UTSA 4 
After UTSA took a 4-2 lead in the top ninth, the Miners kept their chins up and rallied in one of the most exciting endings in a while. Cortney Smith led off the bottom half by reaching base on a hit by pitch. Taylor Sargent followed by drawing a full-count walk to set up Duffield.
Before Duffield could dig her spikes in, the Roadrunners replaced starting ace Lizzy Fox with Madison Nelson. After a strike and two balls thrown by Nelson, Duffield took the fourth pitch and sent it over center field to lift UTEP past UTSA, 5-4.
“[Duffield] has been hitting the ball well, it’s just a matter of her getting on time and making sure she’s stays through the ball,” Echo-Hawk said. “We worked all week with that and had conversations. She was actually supposed to bunt in that situation and move the runners over, but she didn’t get that done. She stepped in there and knew she still had a job to do. I couldn’t think of a better player to be in that position.”
The Roadrunners got on the board first when leadoff hitter Celeste Loughman singled, then advanced to third on an error on the same play. Leading home run hitter in C-USA Baily Baldwin used a sac-fly to left to plate Loughman for the early 1-0 edge.
Fox took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, while recording the first two outs into the bottom fifth. Then Linda Garcia, who missed all of 2017 due to an injury, came up with UTEP’s first hit. But not only was it the first knock, it left the ball park as Garcia connected on her third home run of the season to tie the ball game 1-1.
After Ariel Blair reached on an infield single, Ariana Valles gave her squad a 2-1 advantage when she tripled in Blair.
UTSA tied the game in the sixth when pinch runner Erica Sanchez crossed the dish on an error with two outs. The Roadrunners then took a 4-2 lead in the ninth off Rylee Rodriguez and Victoria Villarreal RBI’s.
Julia Wright (3-12) threw a career-high 9.0 frames, allowing five hits, four runs (two earned) and tied her career best with seven K’s. Wright earned her first C-USA victory, while winning her first game since Feb. 24.
Kaitlin Ryder went 2-for-3 and drew a walk, while Blair, Smith, Sargent, Duffield and Linda Garcia each scored runs. Valles’s triple in the fifth was her second of the season, tying Clayton for the team lead. Duffield also set her career high with three RBI in the contest.
UTEP turned its C-USA-best 16th double play of the season during the first inning.
UTEP 8, UTSA 5
Loughman put her team ahead 1-0 again off a sac-fly, this time by Villarreal, during the first inning.
But the Miners answered with two runs in the bottom half. Clayton tied the game on a RBI double that scored Valles, while Ryder’s RBI double plated Clayton to give UTEP the go-ahead 2-1 lead. Valles’s RBI single in the second inning scored Duffield, giving the Miners a 3-1 lead.
Baldwin, after drawing four walks (three in game one), connected on a solo home run in the third to get the Roadrunners within a run (3-2).
The Miners pretty much put the game away with a four-run fourth inning.
Sargent led off the home half with a single to left. Duffield attempted to bunt Sargent over to second but a throwing error by the pitcher advanced Duffield to second, while Sargent scored from first base to give UTEP a 4-2 lead. Pamala Baber then used a pinch-hit opportunity to put UTEP up 5-2 when she drove home Duffield on a double hit to left. Clayton then got a hold of a 2-2 pitch and sent it down the left field line for a two-run home run, to put her team up 7-2.
The Miners and Roadrunners exchanged runs in the sixth. Celeste Borza drove in a run, while Clayton answered with her fourth RBI off a liner up the middle that scored Blair.
UTSA put up two more runs in the seventh, but Devyn Cretz in a relief appearance and with bases loaded in the final frame, forced the power-hitting Baldwin to fly out to left to end the contest. Cretz threw 2.0 solid innings and tallied three strike outs.
Starting game two hurler Kira McKechnie (7-7), like Wright, won her first C-USA game, while it was McKechnie’s first victory since March 4. McKechnie threw 5.0 frames and recorded two K’s.
“We went ahead, but in the past, we kind of let it go,” Echo-Hawk said. “I kept telling them to keep fighting and stay strong; know that you’re good enough, play with confidence and everything is going to be fine. It didn’t come easy, but not at one point during that last inning did I see them holding their breath or giving up on themselves, they just kept fighting.”
Clayton hit her seventh long ball of the season, tying her career high for home runs hit during a single season. Clayton hit seven her freshman and sophomore seasons. Clayton’s dinger was also her 25th in her career, tying Simone Holland for fourth on the program’s all-time list. Clayton’s four RBI tied her career high, while it was a season high.
Clayton now has 108 RBI in her career, moving past Ashley Ellis (105 RBI) to sixth on the all-time list and one behind Amber Bennett. Clayton’s double during the first was her 48th in her career and is now tied for second on the all-time list with Chelsea Troupe.
The Miners pounded out 14 hits, led by Clayton’s three. Blair and Sargent each went 2-for-3, while Baber, Valles, Ryder, McKechnie, Smith, Duffield and Garcia each connected on knocks. For McKechnie, she doubled in the third for her first career double.
Though UTEP won the series after the Friday two-game sweep, the Miners will look to complete the series sweep on Saturday at noon.