The UTEP softball team recorded 23 total hits as senior Miranda Gutierrez connected on her first career hit in game one on her way to three total hits, and Lindsey Sokoloski and Kaitlin Ryder each collected five hits on the day.
Cortney Smith added four hits in the two-game set, homering in game two, while Courtney Clayton and Ryder connected on back-to-back home runs in the second contest. But Florida Atlantic took both games, 7-4 and 11-8, on Saturday night at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.
The Owls (35-19, 15-8 Conference USA) pounded out 27 hits on Saturday and is vying for one of the top spots in the C-USA Tournament later this week. The Miners (11-36, 5-18 C-USA) had been struggling offensively the last few weeks but finally produced some runs on an Owls’ pitching staff that had a 1.94 ERA entering the weekend.
The Senior Day contest is Sunday with a 1 p.m. start. Seniors Kaitlin Fifield, Taylor Grohmann, Gutierrez, Erika Harrawood and Kiki Pepi will be honored following the game. The five fathers of each senior will toss out the first pitch prior to the contest.
UTEP 4, FAU 7
With the Miners down 5-0, they got within a run with a four-run third inning. Gutierrez led the third frame off with her first career hit, an infield single. Ryder followed with a single to left and Clayton reached on a bunt single to load the bases. Smith came up with a single to center that plated Gutierrez and Ryder to make the score 5-2. Pepi then reached on an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt, while being thrown out at second on a run down. But Clayton and Smith crossed the dish during the chaos to make the score 5-4.
But in the top fourth, Florida Atlantic star shortstop Emily Lochten hit a solo shot, her 18th long ball, over center and Tatum Buckley registered a RBI to pull away from UTEP.
Starting pitchers Erika Harrawood (3-13) and Amanda Wilson (15-9) then kept goose eggs on the scoreboard the rest of the way. Harrawood threw a complete game and struck out four batters on 162 pitches.
UTEP would get more base runners on which included another Gutierrez hit in the sixth, while also drawing a walk in the fourth. But the Miners couldn’t sustain more offense to punch the runners across home plate.
Gutierrez finished 2-for-2 with a run, while Smith went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI. Sokoloski went 2-for-3.
UTEP 8, FAU 11
The Owls struck first with two runs in the top first led by a Buckley RBI, and a stolen base each from Lochten and Madisyn Palmer.
The fighting Miners, after an intense talk from head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk in the middle first, would take a 3-2 lead in the home half as Ryder led off with a single to left. Clayton sacrificed Ryder over that setup Smith’s eighth home run of the season and first since April 1. Smith launched a two-run shot over left on the first pitch to tie the contest. Pepi followed with a single to right and would advance on a Taylor Sargent groundout. Sokoloski used her first double of the contest to drive home Pepi to take the 3-2 advantage.
The Miners would strike again in the fifth with the score 9-3. Ryder led the bottom half off with her fifth home run and Clayton smacked her fourth dinger of the season as both were towering shots over left field to make the score 9-5. After a pair of outs and a Sargent single through the right side, Sokoloski connected on her second double that scored Sargent to bring the Miners within three runs.
But the two squad would trade runs the next two frames. Smith registered her third RBI to tie her career high in the sixth and Sokoloski crossed the dish on an error on a Gutierrez at bat in the seventh. UTEP had runners at the corners, but again, couldn’t get that key hit to bring more runners home.
Sokoloski (3-for-3) tied her career high in hits and is hitting .321 on the season. The sophomore has only struck out once in 134 at bats to rank in the top three in the nation in toughest to strikeout. Smith went 2-for-4 and is currently leading the team with a .362 average. Ryder (3-for-5) also tied her career high in knocks and scored a pair of runs. Pepi finished 2-for-4 with a run scored.
Clayton registered a hit along with a RBI and run scored. Clayton now has 179-career hits, needing nine to pass no. 4-ranked Amber Bennett on the program’s all-time list. Clayton’s two runs on the day gives her 100 to rank sixth on the all-time list, needing eight to surpass Ashley Ellis. Clayton is the sixth Miner to join the 100-run club.
Fifield tossed a complete game, striking out three and only walking one on 141 pitches.