Photo courtesy Michael Reese / UTEP
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – After falling short in game one, 10-8 at WKU, UTEP found itself down 4-0 heading into the seventh inning in game two.
The result was a six-run seventh from the fighting Miners as Kira McKechnie got a hold of a three-run home run, Kacey Duffield singled in a run and Cortney Smith topped off the rally with a two-run blast as the Miners (14-25, 4-10 Conference USA) topped the Hilltoppers (22-14, 6-5 C-USA), 6-4, on Saturday in 37 degree weather at the WKU Softball Complex.
Though the Miners fell in game one, the atmosphere in the dugout was positive in between games.
“It’s like I told [the team] between the games, no matter what happens, just keep telling yourselves that we’re a great team, anything can happen and keep telling yourself positive things, even if you have to repeat it over and over,” fifth-year UTEP head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “They stayed resilient and they did a great job today.”
Although it was the coldest weather the Miners have played in almost five years, UTEP’s bats were hot as 20 hits were recorded and four home runs were hit on the day, highlighted by Smith’s two-run shot. It was Smith’s first long ball since Feb. 17, while Kaitlin Ryder connected on a two-run home run in game one, her first since Feb. 25. But McKechnie, who had been recently inserted into the batting order, connected on her first collegiate home runs, as her first was a two-run dinger in game one. McKechnie finished with five RBI on Saturday.
Allie Johnson was also part of the highlight reel as the sophomore earned her second victory of the season after striking out two and walking none.
Courtney Clayton moved up the doubles’ list as the senior doubled in game two, giving her 49 career doubles and moving to second on the all-time list. Clayton also added her 69th career multi-hit game during the second contest.
UTEP and WKU will play the rubber match on Sunday with a noon CT/11 a.m. MT start.
UTEP 8 – WKU 10
The Miners took an early 1-0 lead during the first inning when Ryder drove in Ariel Blair on a single hit to right center.
WKU answered with a run in the third, while the Miners would follow with a run in the fourth when Duffield scored on a wild pitch with bases loaded.
The 2-1 lead was short-lived when WKU scored six runs in the fourth. The Miners, despite the deficit, kept fighting and outscored the Hilltoppers 6-3 the rest of the way.
In the fifth with UTEP down 7-2, Ryder hit a two-run home run on the first pitch thrown by starting hurler Kelsey Aikey. Linda Garcia added a two-run double down the left line that brought her squad within a run.
WKU, however, answered with three runs in the home fifth to make the score 10-6. In the sixth, McKechnie then connected on a two-run four-bagger off the first pitch and sent the high-arching shot over centerfield.
WKU scored all its runs with two outs on the board, while UTEP left nine on base.
The Miners did connect on 13 knocks, led by Ryder’s 3-for-3 performance with three RBI and two runs scored. Ryder now has 92 RBI in her career, ranking ninth on the school’s all-time list. Ariana Valles went 2-for-5 and recorded an assist. Duffield and Garcia each posted 2-for-4 performances. McKechnie scored her first career run in the fifth on Ryder’s home run, as the junior transfer scored two runs.
“The first game wasn’t a bad game, we just some bad innings and we hit really well,” Echo-Hawk said. “We made too many mistakes at crucial times and made too many mistakes. We could’ve done better on defense and pitching, again, we gave them too many walks.”
UTEP 6 – WKU 4
Aikey, who started game two, cruised during the first six innings. She had only allowed one hit, a Clayton double in the fourth. While Aikey’s arm was dealing, WKU’s bats scored four runs in the fifth to take a 4-0 lead.
Even at one point, the Hilltoppers had the bases loaded during the fifth after the four runs were scored, but Rebekah Engelhardt grounded out to end the inning.
Johnson also got UTEP out of another potential jam in the sixth when a pair of runners reached on walks. Johnson needed to record one out and she did just that after Jordan Vorbrink struck out swinging to keep score within striking distance and set up Clayton’s and Ryder’s at bats.
“Sometimes at bats go well and sometimes at bats go bad,” Echo-Hawk said. “But it doesn’t matter what happened in the past, just focus on the present and your current at bat.”
And good at bats were the case as Clayton led off the top seventh with a hard liner up the middle, while Clayton’s best friend and teammate Ryder followed her lead and drilled one up the middle to set up McKechnie’s spectacular at bat. McKechnie lifted a 1-2 pitch over center for the Miners’ first runs in game two.
“When you have back-to-back hits, especially hard hits, that lifted the team’s spirits and gave them hope to keep going,” Echo-Hawk said. “And [McKechnie] has been doing a good job in the batting cage. She hasn’t had a ton of opportunity up until this season and she’s just worked hard and it’s paying off.”
Duffield would then tie the contest when she connected on a 2-0 pitch through the left side that scored Sargent who had singled prior to Duffield’s at bat.
But the moment of the day came from Smith when she was inserted as a pinch hitter for Blair. Smith, who had been struggling at the plate as of late, used patience during the at bat and sent a full-count pitch over left center and a two-run lead.
“Cortney Smith needed that,” Echo-Hawk said. “And we needed that pinch hit, especially for her, because she hasn’t had the best at bats lately. But I just kept telling her, ‘you’re right there, it’s going happen’ and it did.”
McKechnie made the start, throwing 5.2 frames with two K’s and one earned run.
“I thought Kira threw a really good game,” Echo-Hawk said. “We just made crucial mistakes again, and got down. There were a couple missed-played balls and the game is a different story.”
Johnson finished the game, tossing 1.1 frames and recording two K’s to earn her second career victory. Johnson, after recording that key strike out in the sixth, allowed only one base runner on a hit by pitch, but struck out Kelsey McGuffin and forced Engelhardt to fly out to leftfielder Ilena Santos in foul territory to chalk up the win.
“Allie did a great job and got another win today,” Echo-Hawk said. “She just went out there and did her job. I told her not to try to do too much. She spun the ball and let the defense do the work.”
The last time UTEP rallied in the seventh down four or more runs came on Feb. 13, 2015 against Echo-Hawk’s former team. The Miners rallied to score eight runs in the top seventh to win 8-5 in Las Vegas, Nv.