Andres Acosta / El Paso herald-Post
The UTEP softball team (11-26) dominated New Mexico (11-28), 7-1, behind a career day from senior Kira McKechnie.
McKechnie asserted her dominance in the circle for the Miners. She registered a career-high 12 strikeouts, and was two outs away from completing a no-hitter. It marked most strikeouts by a UTEP pitcher since former standout Stacie Townsend piled up 18 in 2010.
McKechnie has been on fire in her last four appearances in the circle. She has a 2.43 ERA with 24 strikeouts and a .205 opponent batting average in 23.0 innings of work. She is 2-1 in the stretch.
Ilena Santos also had a career day, producing a career-high four RBIs. Three of those RBIs came on a homer into right center in the sixth frame. Kacey Duffield registered two doubles on the day, as well as an RBI. Duffield has now reached base in 34 of the Miners’ 37 games this season. Ariana Valles also tacked on two hits, and Kasey Flores brought in her team-leading 30th RBI.
The Miners jumped all over the home team in the first frame. Ariel Blair led off with a double down the left-field line, and then was brought in by a double from Duffield. Cortney Smith smacked a single through the left side, advancing Duffield to third and keeping the offensive barrage on. Valles continued the peppering of the Lobo defense with a single of her own, scoring Duffield and sending Smith to third base. Santos got in on the action with an RBI single that gave UTEP a 3-0 lead after one.
McKechnie took note of her offense’s hot start and struck out the side in just 14 pitches. She continued to be in control as the game wore on, reaching a then career-best eight strikeouts through four innings. Not only was she mixing up the batters, but she was also flirting with the no-no.
Flores tallied her 30th RBI of the year with a single in the sixth frame. Valles followed up with a single that put Flores at third base. Santos stepped to the plate and smashed a three-run bomb to give the Miners a 7-0 lead and McKechnie some run support.
Heading into the seventh inning the senior pitcher was working with 12 strikeouts, and the no-hitter was only three outs away. The first batter for the Lobos hit a rocket toward second base. Pate Cathey dove and gloved the ball, flipping it to first base for the out. Unfortunately, the Lobos registered a double on the next at-bat to break up what could have been the eighth no-hitter in UTEP history. UNM managed to tack on a run, but it didn’t take away from McKechnie’s performance.
“It was a great game. I think our offense coming out and scoring three runs in the first really relaxed Kira (McKechnie) a little. Then she just went out and kept doing what she has been doing the last couple of weeks. She has been working hard in the bullpen, working on that changeup. Today it was super effective,” said Coach Tobin Echo-Hawk. “Unfortunately, in that last inning they got a hit but at least it was the heart of their lineup. She did a great job. We hope she can continue to do that for us into the weekend because it is a big weekend for us.”
On Deck, the Miners will travel to Ruston, La., for a conference series versus LA Tech (April 13-14).
>> Kira McKechnie posted a career-high 12 strikeouts
>> Most strikeouts by a UTEP pitcher since 2010
>> Flores recorded her team-leading 30th RBI of the year