MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Danielle Pearson connected on a pinch-hit, two-run double and Courtney Clayton launched a two-run home run during a five-run seventh inning, as UTEP rallied past Middle Tennessee 9-6on Sunday at Middle Tennessee Softball Field.
“I’m so proud of this team; it’s hard to comeback, especially down two going into the seventh inning,” third-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “They did a great job of staying in the moment and fighting. It’s what we’ve been talking about all weekend. Sometimes things just don’t go your way, and it’s not how they don’t go your way, but how you respond to that. They did a fantastic of responding when they needed to.”
The Miners (18-25, 9-6 Conference USA), despite committing six errors on the day, won their fourth consecutive C-USA series, while the Blue Raiders (23-21, 6-9 C-USA) lost their second consecutive league series.
“The errors put us in a bad situation as far as letting runs score and being behind,” Echo-Hawk added. “Sometimes it’s hard to recover when you have six errors, but the team did a nice job of staying in the moment and not letting it be too big.”
The Miners have a one-game lead on UAB (9-6 C-USA), which lost to FIU 11-3 on Sunday. Southern Miss (10-8 C-USA) completed a sweep against North Texas to win its 10th league game.
With the score 6-4, Hope Moreno led off the seventh with a hit by pitch, followed by a Kawehiokalani Netane single to left. Linda Garcia, who hit the ball well this past weekend, tallied an RBI double to a diving centerfielder, scoring Moreno. Pearson was inserted as a pinch hitter for Cortney Smith and made the most of it.
Pearson connected on a 0-2 pitch and sent the ball to deep left center, plating Netane and pinch runner Ariel Blair. Clayton, with the score 7-6, hammered the nail in the coffin on a full count, one-out pitch and hit a two-run home run, her sixth long ball of the season.
“Danielle was clutch,” Echo-Hawks said. “She had been struggling a bit, but she’s just that clutch person. Sometimes you just need that clutch person and she tends to be that person for us. She had a great at bat.”
Precious Birdsong, who had been a challenge to get out all weekend, singled with one out, but starting pitcher Kaitlin Fifield (8-12) forced a pop out to second and a fly out to center to end the contest. Birdsong, after going 6-for-6 in the first two games, was held to two hits on Sunday.
Middle Tennessee took an early 1-0 lead in the first, as Birdsong scored on an error. Despite a couple fielding miscues that loaded the bases, Fifield was able to force a pair of groundouts to get out of the jam.
UTEP, however, tied the contest in the second on a Jade Rodriguez groundout that scored Moreno, who led off the inning with a walk.
In the third, the Miners gained a 2-1 advantage on a bases loaded situation. Garcia reached on an error by short, plating Kiki Pepi, who singled earlier in the inning.
In the home half, the Blue Raiders tied the contest 2-2 on a Carlie Jenkins RBI single to right center.
In the fifth, Austyn Whaley connected on a two-run home run that gave Middle Tennessee a 4-2 lead.
But again, the Miners would respond in the sixth. Rodriguez reached on a two-out single, followed by a Clayton double (15th of the season) that plated Rodriguez. Ryder then tied the contest on a single up the middle that brought Clayton across the dish.
The lead would change again as Megan Griffith connected on a two-out, two-run single that gave Middle Tennessee a 6-4 advantage in the sixth.
UTEP tallied 15 hits, led by Clayton and Ryder who each finished the afternoon 3-for-5. Clayton registered a trio of RBI, while Pearson recorded two RBI, and Ryder, Garcia and Rodriguez each had an RBI. Fifield won her eighth game and fifth in her last seven starts. Fifield hurled her 10th complete game (7.0 innings) with three earned runs and walked two. She also improved to 6-3 in C-USA contests.
UTEP will host I-10 rival NM State in its final nonconference contest on Tuesday at 6 p.m. C-USA action will continue on April 23-24 against West Division rival UAB. Saturday’s doubleheader will start at 1 p.m., whileSunday’s finale will start at noon.