The UTEP softball team (16-32, 9-14 Conference USA) defeated FIU (26-24, 7-15 C-USA), 8-4, in game one to clinch a C-USA tournament bid on Saturday afternoon at Helen of Troy Softball Complex. The Orange and Blue later fell, 4-2, to FIU in game two.
“Super big win for our seniors and our program. To get back to the conference tournament just shows how hard these kids have worked all year. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but they never quit. That is the one thing I am super proud of the about,” Coach Tobin Echo-Hawks said.
The Miners clinched their first C-USA Tournament berth since 2016, after defeating FIU in game one. Currently, UTEP sits at seventh in the conference standings, needing a win on Sunday to clinch the seed.
Linda Garcia went a perfect 4-4 at the plate for the day with one home run and three RBIs. Cortney Smith registered two homers and three RBIs, and became only the fourth player in program history with more than 30 dingers. Pate Cathey tallied three hits, including a lead-off home run in game one. Kasey Flores posted two hits and an RBI during the doubleheader.
Julia Wright earned her 10th victory in game one, throwing a complete game. Allie Johnson locked in a career high in strikeouts (six) and innings pitched (5.2) in game two, while only allowing one run.
UTEP began game one with a bang, as Cathey smoked a dinger into center field to give the Miners the early momentum.
The Golden Panthers were not going to lay down, as they scored one run on a sac fly and then a two-run homer gave them a 3-1 advantage at Helen of Troy.
Garcia knew her team needed a boost after losing the lead. The senior took one deep with a solo shot, breathing life back into her squad to make the count 3-2.
The Miners were still dealing with the one-run deficit heading into the fifth frame, but UTEP’s offense had something ready for FIU. Cathey led off the inning with a double and was brought in by Flores to tie the contest. Valles, added to the damage with a two-run double. Garcia came up big again, earning two more RBIs on a single into left field that gave the Orange and Blue a 7-3 cushion.
FIU got one run back in the sixth, but Smith immediately answered with her 13th homer this year and 30th of her career to make the score 8-4 in favor of the home team.
The Golden Panthers had nothing left in top of the seventh, and watched as the Miners celebrated their first C-USA Tournament berth since 2016, and eliminated them from post season contention.
UTEP fell in game two of the day by the score of 4-2. FIU got the scoring started, when a passed ball allowed a run to score.
Flores walked in the bottom half of the frame. The Sun City made its presence known, when a ball hit by Smith that would normally be a routine pop out became an RBI triple due to the El Paso sun effecting the FIU right fielder.
The Golden Eagles posted three more runs through four innings of play, gaining a 4-1 lead.
Smith continued to swing her scorching hot bat in the sixth frame, and sent her 14th bomb of the season into deep left field, chopping the lead down to two runs, 4-2.
Johnson entered the game in the second inning, and finished the contest, throwing a career high in strikeouts (six) and innings pitched (5.2).
The Orange and Blue got the game-tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but were unable to convert.
On deck, UTEP softball will look for the series victory today at noon on Senior Day.
>> Clinched first C-USA Tournament berth since the 2016 season
>> Smith became the fourth player in program history to hit 30 or more home runs in a career
>> Smith’s 14 home runs this year is tied for third by a Miner in a single season (Troupe had 14 in 2011)
>> Johnson posted a career-high six strikeouts and 5.2 innings pitched
>> Duffield has reached base in 42 of the Miners’ 48 games this season
>> Wright recorded her 10th victory of the season and 17th of her career, needing one to crack the top five in program history