Freshman Lindsey Sokoloski highlighted the day with a rare inside-the-park grand slam home run and sophomore Hope Moreno recorded a career high in RBI, as the UTEP softball team rallied to beat UTSA 5-3 in game one, while claiming a 9-2 victory in the second contest.
Sole possession of first place in Conference USA West Division was also claimed on a clear Saturday afternoon at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.
The Miners (17-20, 8-3 C-USA) extended their conference-winning streak to eight games (a program record), while the Roadrunners (12-22, 6-5 C-USA) have lost their last three league games.
UTEP found itself down in both ball games, but found ways to get on base and score runs.
“It was one of those days where we played some scrappy games,” third-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. Overall is wasn’t spectacular and we didn’t necessarily play our best, but we scrapped it out and did what we needed to.”
UTEP has won eight of its last 10 games going back to March 19 after losing nine of 10 contests March 4-15. The Miners have passed their win total (14) from last season and have matched their victories (17) from 2014, Echo-Hawk’s first season.
UTEP 5, UTSA 3
With the Roadrunners leading 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Sokoloski showed some speed of her own.
“Lindsey’s big hit in the sixth inning, it doesn’t get better than that,” Echo-Hawk said. “She’s the kid that just doesn’t think too much or doesn’t over think, she just gets up there and swings the bat. She was perfect for that situation.”
The Miners loaded the bags on a Moreno leadoff double, while pitches hit Kawehiokalani Netane and Linda Garcia. Sokoloski was inserted as a pinch hitter and did something special. She connected on a one-out first pitch that sailed over the left infield and took a big bounce past the left fielder in foul territory.
Echo-Hawk waved everyone in, including Sokoloski who turned on the jets rounding third and slid into home plate where she was greeted by a mob of excited Miners.
Prior to the excitement, UTSA took an early 3-0 lead after Tess Soefje and Jade Smith RBI singles in the second inning, and a Kaley Pyles RBI single in the fourth.
UTEP cut the deficit to two runs (3-1) after Kaitlin Ryder plated pinch runner Morgan Rasmason on a double to deep right center. The Miners had runners on second and third with one, but couldn’t punch them in, as starting pitcher Lizzy Fox (5-7) forced a pair of groundouts to end the rally.
Though after allowing three runs the first four innings, UTEP starting hurler Kaitlin Fifield (6-10) settled in and claimed her third consecutive victory (tied a career high) and fourth in the last five starts. After retiring UTSA’s first three batters in the first, Fifield ran into some problems in the second, as bases were juiced.
Leadoff hitter Kendall Burton reached on a catcher’s interference to load the bags, but Fifield forced Randee Crawford to groundout to the circle to end the top half and avoiding any more damage.
Fifield threw another complete game (7 CGs in 2016), walking one and fanning three. The native of El Paso won her 17th-career game, moving to no. 5 on the all-time win’s list with Colleen Hohman and Megan Barber. Fifield is 12-5 in the Sun City during her career.
UTEP tallied 10 hits, led by Courtney Clayton’s 3-for-4 performance. Ryder went 2-for-4, while Moreno finished 2-for-2 with a run scored. Garcia and Taylor Sargent each added a knock. Sokoloski finished with a career-high four RBI.
Shortstop Cortney Smith led the defensive performance with six assists, while second baseman Clayton registered four assists.
UTEP 9, UTSA 2
With the Miners leading 6-2 in the sixth, Moreno connected on a three-run home run on her way to a career-high five RBI. It was her second home run in as many weeks, while the long ball over center helped to extend the winning streak.
And prior to that excitement, again, UTSA got the on the board in the first on a Pyles solo home run and a Soefji RBI single.
But the relentless Miners had an answer in the bottom half. With two outs, Moreno tallied her first two RBI of the contest, plating Clayton and Ryder, on a hard double hit to deep center.
In the second with bases juiced after Netane getting hit by a pitch, Garcia singling and Ryder walking, Kiki Pepi gave her squad the go-ahead lead with two outs on a high chopper that went over the pitcher and to the second baseman who couldn’t make the play.
During Ryder’s at bat, with the count full, it was thought that she struck out swinging, but was determined by the umpire that it was a foul tip, hence keeping the inning alive.
Starting pitcher Danielle Pearson (6-5) would cruise, keeping a row of goose eggs on the board after the first frame. Pearson only allowed four hits and a total of two after the first on her way to a career-high fourth consecutive win.
With the triumph, Pearson won game no. 24 in her career and moved to no. 2 on the all-time win’s list with Kelly Curran.
Pearson threw her 10th complete game of 2016 and struck out a pair of batters.
“Our pitchers did what they needed to do,” Echo-Hawk said. “Kaitlin [Ffield] kept them off balance, and then D.P. [Danielle Pearson], after that first inning, she settled down, made her pitches move and worked the spins a little bit. She did a fantastic job coming back after that first inning.”
In the third, with the score 3-2, Netane connneted on her team-leading seventh long ball of the season, a high solo shot on a 2-2 pitch over left. Netane, who now has 22-career long balls, moved to no. 5 on the all-time home run’s list with Amber Bennett.
Prior to Moreno’s home run in the sixth, Pepi put the Miners up 6-2 on a single down the left field line, plating Smith and Clayton.
The Orange and Blue recorded 12 hits in game two, led by Clayton (2-for-4), Pepi (2-for-3) and Moreno (2-for-4). Pepi added three RBI, giving her a team-best 33 on the season. Clayton is now hitting .417 on the season.
Defensively, Smith led with four assists, while Netane made a spectacular diving catch at center and threw out a runner at home in the first game. Sargent tallied four put outs in right during both contests, but made a great over-the-head catch in the first game near the fence.
“We had some great plays and we had some miscues,” Echo-Hawk said. “I can’t give them enough credit to our outfield. Overall they have been doing a fantastic job. A couple diving plays; Sargent’s catch was an amazing play and Kawehi’s throw was huge. They’ve been working hard all season.”
UTEP and UTSA will play the series finale is on Sunday, starting at 11:30 a.m. from its original noon start. The Miners will look the complete their third consecutive sweep of a conference foe.