The UTEP offense exploded as it won the series finale over UAB, 16-13, for its first Conference USA victory of 2018. The Miners (11-18, 1-5 C-USA) outslugged the Blazers (10-19-1, 3-2-1 C-USA) during an offensive onslaught during high winds at Helen of Troy Softball Complex on Sunday afternoon.
The UTEP offense came to life on Sunday as it amassed 14 hits, the second most knocks registered this season.
Kacey Duffield put her club ahead early on her second dinger of the season. Courtney Clayton produced two more hits, a run and RBI, while Ariana Valles registered a pair of RBI. Linda Garcia recorded a season-high three RBI on two hits, Kaitlin Ryder crossed the dish a career-high four times on a 3-for-4 effort and Mariah Ellis came up with a clutch three-run double to essentially clinch the win.
The Miner faithful witnessed a back-and-forth game in which the lead changed five times during the course of the contest. A total of 29 runs were scored, the most combined runs scored during a C-USA game this season.
“We picked a good game to start hitting the ball and [the team] was very resilient today,” fifth-year UTEP head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “Yesterday broke their hearts a little bit, and they could’ve given up, but that’s not who this team is. They’re a bunch of fighters and even when it goes bad, they continue to go at it. I could not be prouder of this team.”
Sunday’s 16 runs in a league contest is the most since 2006 and the most in a C-USA game during the Echo-Hawk era.
The game three victory also halted a seven-game losing streak, while it was the first victory since shutting out East Carolina, 1-0, on March 4.
The hit parade started with a freshman Valles infield single that set up Duffield’s two-run home run to give her squad an early 2-0 advantage in the first frame. Duffield lifted a 1-1 pitch on a high-arching shot over center off UAB starter Emily Kachel. It’s Duffield’s second long ball in a UTEP uniform.
The Blazers, who were relentless all weekend, took a 3-2 lead in the second on a Sarah Crawford RBI double and a Natalie Erwin two-run home run.
The Miners answered with a pair of runs in the bottom half. Ryder led the home half off with a single pushed to center field, while advancing to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a Garcia groundout. Ilena Santos then drew a one-out walk and proceeded to steal second. Ariel Blair then reached on a bunt single to load the bases. Clayton tied the game 3-3 on a single lined up the middle that plated Ryder. Valles then gave the Miners a 4-3 lead on a sac-fly hit to center that brought Santos across the dish.
After a scoreless top third in which the Miners turned their 13th double play of the season and starting hurler Kira McKechnie struck out Molli Garcia, the bottom half saw five more runs scored in which a commanding 9-3 lead was on the board.
During the bottom third, Cortney Smith singled to left to leadoff, while Taylor Sargent reached on a fielder’s choice with Smith being safe at second. Ryder then sent a ball to deep right center in which Katlyn Sides dropped the routine out. The error scored Smith and Sargent, while a second error on the play by the catcher plated Ryder, giving the Miners a 7-3 lead. Garcia followed with a solo home run over left for an 8-3 lead, her second dinger of the season. After a pair of outs were tallied by UAB, Clayton drew a walk on a full-count pitch that set up another Valles RBI, this time off a hard double sent to center, giving her squad a 9-3 lead.
The scoring, however, did not end there.
After leadoff hitter Erwin grounded out and Destini England reached on a fielder’s choice for out number two, the Blazers lit up the scoreboard with eight runs with two outs during the top fourth on five hits to take a 11-9 lead. Rachel Rogers, Smith and Garcia each registered an RBI, while Crawford added two RBI during the big frame.
But as the Blazers fought, the Miners fought just little harder on Sunday.
“We gave up eight runs with two outs, again, we could’ve come back in and not done much with that,” Echo-Hawk said. “But we got runs back that inning and kept fighting.”
UTEP not only got the runs back, but took a 12-11 lead in the bottom fourth. Garcia sent a hard knock to right for a two-run double to tie the game and pinch runner (for Garcia) Brianna Hill scored on an error for the go-ahead lead. Hill got to third base on a passed ball earlier in the inning.
Bur for Garcia, it was another clutch, league-game hit as she has come up with big knocks during her three-years plus in a UTEP uniform.
“She’s is a feisty kid that I think is always trying to prove something,” Echo-Hawk said of Linda Garcia who missed all of 2017 due to a torn ACL. “She’s got a fiery personality and I keep telling her that’s what we’re missing behind the plate. This weekend, she made tremendous strides both offensively and defensively. She’s right where we need her to be.”
After Rogers led off the fifth with a walk, reliever Allie Johnson forced Rogers out at second as Smith reached on a fielder’s choice. Crawford and Garcia then flied out to Blair in center during back-to-back at bats to end the top half.
The bottom half saw the Miners load the bases as Duffield was hit by a pitch to lead off. Sargent drew a one-out walk to put a pair of runners on, while Ryder singled to center. With two outs and Pamala Baber at bat during a pinch-hit opportunity, UAB pitcher Claire Blount threw a wild pitch that paved the way for Duffield to score, giving the Miners a slim 13-11 edge. Baber followed by being patient and drawing a walk to set up Ellis’s pinch-hit opportunity with bases juiced. Ellis came up with a hard liner on a 2-1 pitch hit to left center, clearing the bases and putting the Orange and Blue in front of UAB 16-11.
The Blazers scratched out two more runs in the top seventh as Katelyn Prater led off with a walk, and Analyse Petree and Rogers connected on back-to-back doubles. Julia Wright was then inserted with a runner on, and forced Smith to fly out to right field, while Crawford and Garcia both grounded out to end the weekend series.
Johnson (1-0), during her seventh appearance of the 2018 season, won her first collegiate contest. The sophomore tossed 2.1 innings to earn the victory. Wright threw an inning to earn her league-leading third save of the season and McKechnie made the start, throwing 3.2 innings with four K’s.
“Allie came in and did a great job keeping those hitters off balance and that helps her confidence that we need from her,” Echo-Hawk said. “She’s probably got the best spin of all our pitchers and continues to work hard.”
Clayton Quick Notes
Courtney Clayton came up with an RBI, giving her 100 in her career. She’s the eighth Miner to accomplish the feat. Clayton also scored a run during Sunday’s contest, as she now has 122. Clayton’s two hits on Sunday also gives the senior 215, four behind Chelsea Troupe, who ranks second on the list. Clayton is three assists from tying Amber Bennett for no. 1 on the program’s all-time list.
UTEP will travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., to take on Southern Miss (11-20, 1-5 C-USA). The March 24 doubleheader is slated for a noon MT start/1 p.m. CST, while Sunday’s series finale is set for noon MT.