The UTEP softball team ended a four-game losing skid, winning game one 8-4, while Hope Moreno used a full-count walk-off single with bases loaded to claim a 5-4 come-from-behind victory in the second game on Saturday at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.
“After the last week and half we’ve had, it’s been tough and we struggled,” third-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “And for us to come from behind, as much as you would like to win by a lot because it’s less stressful, I was just standing and thinking it doesn’t get any better than this. This is what the game is all about. Bottom of the seventh, bases loaded and a full count – you can’t write it any better.”
With the victories, the Miners (21-28, 12-8 Conference USA) set the program standard in conference wins (12), surpassing the 2010 squad that won 11 C-USA games. The Mean Green (20-30) fell to 3-17 in league action.
“I’m jus so proud of how they fought,” Echo-Hawk added. “They just played as a team and picked each other up. We may have made mistakes, but they just keep fighting.”
UTEP is one game back of UAB (13-7) in the West Division, which split with UTSA (10-10), and one game up on Southern Miss (11-9), which split with LA Tech (9-8).
The Miners recorded 20 hits on the day that included four home runs and five doubles.
UTEP 8, North Texas 4
Kaitlin Fifield (9-15) pitched one of her best games of the season, throwing 7.0 frames with four Ks and most importantly walking zero Mean Green batters.
Fifield got into a jam in the first, as Karly Williams gave North Texas an early 1-0 lead in the first. The Mean Green had a pair of runners on after a Rhylie Makawe two-out single, but Fifield used her first K to punch out Bryana Wade to end the top half.
The Miners answered with a pair of runs in the bottom half. Courtney Clayton used her 19th double, a ground rule two-bagger to lead off. Clayton also tied the school record for doubles in a single season. Kiki Pepi followed with a one-out RBI double to get her squad on the board. It was Pepi’s first RBI in six games (April 16). Moreno then put the Miners up 2-1 with an RBI single to left that plated Pepi.
UTEP scored three more runs in the second frame to go up 5-1. Linda Garcia led off with her sixth home run of the season, a solo shot on a 2-0 pitch down the left field line. Jade Rodriguez reached on an error by the catcher that set up a Kaitlin Ryder one-out RBI single that scored Rodriguez. Ryder would eventually cross the dish when Taylor Sargent singled to center, but an error by the center fielder let Ryder score and Sargent advance to second.
North Texas cut the deficit to 5-3 in the fifth, as Kelli Schkade tallied an RBI double and later stole home plate on a double steal. But Fifield forced a lineout to shortstop Cortney Smith and a ground out to third baseman Pepi.
Sargent got one of the runs back in the bottom fifth with her third long ball of the season, a solo shot over left. Ryder put the game away with her fifth jack of the season, a two-run blast on a 0-2 pitch over left field.
Clayton (2-for-3), Ryder (2-for-4) and Sargent (2-for-3) each recorded multiple hits, while Ryder tied her career high with a trio of RBI. Fifield ended a three-game skid, while matching her win total from 2015.
UTEP 5, North Texas 4
The Mean Green used a three-run fifth to take a 4-1 lead on a Williams two-run single and a Makawe RBI single.
The Miners weren’t rattled and answered in a big way in the home half. Lindsey Sokoloski doubled with one out to start the rally. Ariel Blair was inserted as a pinch runner for the fellow freshman. After the second out was recorded, Ryder’s bat stayed hot in the second game, as she doubled on a 0-2 pitch to deep center that scored Blair. Pepi then came up with a clutch two-run bomb on a 2-2 pitch over center to tie the game 4-4. It was Pepi’s seventh home run of 2016 and first since March 25. Pepi also record her 41st RBI, the fourth most RBI in single season in program history.
Danielle Pearson (7-8) notched the victory to also end a three-game losing streak and came up with a pair of big innings to keep the game tied. Pearson didn’t let the three-run fifth fluster her, as she retired the side in order in the sixth. After allowing a leadoff single in the seventh, the senior forced a pop out to second base, a fielder’s choice in which the leadoff runner was thrown out at second and a fly out to center to set up the dramatic seventh.
“D.P. did a great job,” Echo-Hawk said. “She struggled a little bit, came back to pitch well and I think that shows a lot about her as a person. I think great defense helped her, and helps any pitcher to be confident out there.”
In the thrilling home half, Blair singled up the middle to lead off. Clayton followed with a single to shallow center, while Ryder advanced the runners on a sacrifice bunt. Pepi was then walked intentionally to load the bases. On the next at bat, Sargent put the ball in play to the shortstop, but Blair was thrown out at home for the second out. But Moreno, who’s been hitting well as of late, forced a full count and after a pair of foul tips, the sophomore hit a hard single that took a bounce over the third basemen, plating Clayton for the game winning run.
“I put them in these situations in practice, in the weight room and in conditioning where they have their backs against the wall,” Echo-Hawk said. “But they keep pushing through, and they can do so much more than they realize. It’s paying off and they’ve accepted every challenge I’ve given them and I think it shows what kind of people they are, what kind of team they are, and they’re willing to do anything for each other.”
Clayton finished the game 2-for-4 with a run, while Ryder went 2-for-2 with a run and RBI. Pepi recorded two RBI, while Moreno and Garcia each recorded an RBI.
The Miners will look to sweep the Mean Green in the series finale on Senior Day. Kawehiokalani Netane, Pearson, Morgan Rasmason and Rodriguez will be honored following Sunday’s noon contest. The game is free for all fans.