Linda Garcia lined a two-run home run over left field and Taylor Sargent connected on a solo blast, as the UTEP softball team used another late rally to complete a sweep, defeating North Texas 6-3 on Senior Day at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.
“It’s nice for the seniors to go out on a win on Senior Day,” third-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “It’s the first Senior Day win in quite some time; it’s fun to see that.”
The Miners (22-28, 13-8 Conference USA) are in a tie with UAB (23-28, 13-8 C-USA) for first place in the West Division after the Blazers dropped their contest, 3-1, against UTSA on Sunday. UTEP will play at Southern Miss May 7-8, while UAB will finish at North Texas to end the regular season.
“We are tied for first and it’s a good spot for us,” Echo-Hawk said. “We just have to make sure we take care of business next weekend [at Southern Miss]. It’s nice going into that last weekend a little relaxed instead of having to do so much. It’s a different feeling that we’ve never been through so I think the kids are going to enjoy it and when they’re loose and relaxed – they play better.”
UTEP will find itself in postseason action for the first time since the 2010 campaign, while its 13-8 league record guarantees a winning record in conference play for the first time in program history.
Other records were broken on Sunday, as sophomore Courtney Clayton set the single-season school record in hits (75) and doubles (20).
But before personal records could be recognized along with other accomplishments, the Miners were still in a battle with the Mean Green.
“These kids keep fighting,” Echo-Hawk said. “They come to practice with excitement, they’re working on things to help the squad, and coming in for extra reps. I don’t have any spare time because they’re always wanting to do something more. It’s a great problem to have.”
After a two-run third inning by the Mean Green, the Miners found themselves down 3-2. But just like all season, the 2016 squad has found ways to respond.
In the home half of the third, senior Danielle Pearson reached on a one-out double down the right field line. Sophomore Linda Garcia came up with another clutch hit this weekend, as she doubled to left to plate Pearson, tying the contest 3-3.
After a scoreless fourth, winning pitcher Kaitlin Fifield (10-15) allowed a leadoff single in the fifth, but the junior forced three consecutive groundouts to get out of the top half.
The offense responded with a pair of runs on one swing. After Cortney Smith singled with one out, Garcia took a swing at the first pitch and lined a two-run jack over left, giving the Miners a 5-3 lead. It was Garcia’s seventh home run of the season, ranking tied second on the team with Kiki Pepi and Clayton.
Fifield, again, came up with another solid inning in the sixth, as a pair of North Texas batters reached. Fifield tallied her third K of the contest and forced two groundouts to end any rally.
Sargent then slammed the nail in the coffin in the bottom sixth, as she, like Garcia, took the first pitch and launched an absolute bomb over left, giving her squad a 6-3 lead. It was Sargent’s fourth long ball of the season.
North Texas led off the seventh with a single, but the Miners turned their 26th double play of the season and Fifield forced a groundout to complete the series sweep.
Earlier in the contest, the Mean Green took an early 1-0 advantage in the first. Starting pitcher Pearson got out of the top half jam, while she tied the game with an RBI single up the middle that plated Clayton with bases loaded in the home half. Senior Morgan Rasmason helped her senior classmate with a clutch sliding catch in left field to end the top half of the first.
Pepi used RBI no. 42 to give the Miners a 2-1 lead in the second inning, as she singled to left that scored Clayton.
The Miners tallied 12 hits, led by Clayton (2-for-4), Pepi (2-for-4), Pearson (2-for-4) and Garcia (2-for-3). Garcia registered a trio of RBI, while Pepi, Pearson and Sargent tallied an RBI each. Sargent, Moreno, Smith and senior Jade Rodriguez each tallied a knock. Rodriguez added four putouts in center field, as all were hit to the gap. Smith played great defense all day, recording four assist from the shortstop position.
Fifield threw in relief, hurling 4.2 innings with a trio of Ks and, again, zero walks. Pearson threw 2.1 innings, walking only one.
The conference sweep was the second in the Sun City, as UTEP swept LA Tech on March 19-20, and its third overall sweep of a league foe in 2016. The Miners swept FIU in Miami on March 25-26. The Miners also improved their overall home record to 11-10 and 8-4 in C-USA action.
The regular season will conclude at Southern Miss on May 7-8 in Hattiesburg. The 2016 C-USA Tournament will be in Denton, Texas May 11-14.