A day after beating up on Portland State, 17-4, the Vikings came out strong and jumped on UTEP early with a 4-1 lead. But the resilient and scrappy Miners used a four-run fourth frame, which included a Kaitlin Ryder go-ahead three-run home run, to fight off the Vikings, 8-4, on Sunday afternoon at Helen of Troy Softball Complex.
“I told the team after the game as long as we keep fighting, it’s a good thing and sometimes you learn what kind of team you are when your backs are against the wall,” fifth-year UTEP head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “They continued to fight and scrap and it was one of my favorite wins because it’s hard to beat a team three times. They kept going at it and staying positive. But Portland State played a good game, hats off to them – it wasn’t easy.”
The Miners (9-7) finished the weekend 5-0, while winning their last eight of nine contests.
The Vikings brought a 4-1 lead into the fourth after scoring two runs in the second inning and two more during the third after Darian Lindsey hit a solo home run over right and Kortney Craker singled in a run.
Junior Kacey Duffield got the rally started with a leadoff single through the left side in the fourth. Speedy freshman Jordyn Quevedo was then inserted as pinch runner for Duffield. Ilena Santos followed with a single, advancing Quevedo to second. Ariana Valles then reached on a fielder’s choice as Santos was thrown out at second, but a throwing error by the second baseman advanced Quevedo to home and Valles to second, getting the Miners within two runs (4-2).
The fourth inning continued when Ariel Blair drew a walk on a full count as she saw 10 pitches during her at bat. Blair then followed with a stolen base – her team-leading sixth of the season – during Ryder’s at bat. Ryder, too, saw multiple pitches, including one that she pulled to left that just grazed the left field foul line that could’ve tied the contest. But it was a blessing in disguise as she sent the next pitch over right field, giving the Miners a 5-4 lead in front of the loud and boisterous fan base.
Kira McKechnie and Julia Wright came into relief to put the game in the books. McKechnie was inserted into the circle during the third inning after starting hurler Devyn Cretz struggled a bit. McKechnie (5-2) earned the win after tossing 3.0 innings, allowing a run, striking out a pair and only walking one. Wright entered the circle with her squad up 5-4, as she tossed 2.0 frames to earn her second save of the season. Wright tallied three K’s and no walks. She’s recorded 23 K’s in her last 15.0 innings with only four walks and a 2.33 ERA.
Insurance runs were scored in the sixth inning off the bats of Pamala Baber and Brianna Hill. Hill was credited with an RBI sac-fly to right that scored Courtney Clayton, who led off the inning with her team-leading second triple of the season. Hill would reach first due to an error on the right fielder. Baber then blew the game open with a two-run bomb over left on a full-count pitch, making the score 8-4.
The Miners amassed 11 more hits on Sunday, as double-digit hits were tallied in three of the five games during the weekend. Clayton added another multi-hit performance (the 60th in her career), going 2-for-4, while Baber recorded a career high in hits on a 3-for-4 day and scored two runs. Ryder tallied three RBI and Duffield finished 2-for-3. Mariah Ellis put the Miners on the board first with a pinch-hit RBI single to left during the second inning.
The Miners will travel across the Pacific to play six games in Hawai’i. UTEP will take on Cal and Longwood (March 1), James Madison (March 2), host school Hawai’i twice (March 3 & 4) and East Carolina (March 4).