File: Kiki Pepi tied her career high with five RBI to help take down Wichita State
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Senior Erika Harrawood earned her first career victory, Moreno Valley, Calif., native Cortney Smith blasted a pair of solo home runs and San Diego native Kiki Pepi exploded on a grand slam as UTEP defeated Utah State 7-5, but not before the Miners picked up their first win of 2017 after defeating Siena, 10-2 (5), behind Corona, Calif., native freshman Devyn Cretz’s three-hitter and Courtney Clayton’s first bomb of 2017 on the first day at the Riverside Classic Friday afternoon.
“Sometimes when you’re having a season like we’ve had, it’s super important to just keep going and getting over that hump to get that first win,” fourth-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “It opened up the gates to show them that they can still win and they’re a good team.”
During the two victories, the Miners (2-9) hit .352 (19-for-54), scored 17 runs and registered four home runs, two triples by Lindsey Sokoloski and a pair of doubles.
“We went back to basics (in practice this past week),” Echo-Hawk said. “Making sure we were fielding ground balls and making the proper throw – going the basic fundamental things. It was the same thing with hitting – back to basics and hitting the ball where it’s pitched. Sometimes (the team) sees the big picture before the little picture and we tried to simplify it a little bit. We just really focused on those little fundamental things and it paid off. This was one of the best offensive days we’ve had.”
The pitching staff did a tremendous job after struggling its first nine games of the season. Cretz, Harrawood and Kaitlin Fifield (earned a save in second game) combined for a 2.92 ERA in 12.0 innings of work and 12 Ks. Of the seven runs allowed, five were earned. But most importantly, the staff only walked three hitters on the day after walking 52 in the first nine contests.
“We had a good amount of run support so that our pitchers didn’t have as much pressure,” Echo-Hawk added. “But Erika looked great today and really all season. She’s worked super hard during the offseason to get herself into better shape and it’s paying off. We were really excited and happy for her; the team plays well behind her.”
UTEP 10, Siena 2 
The Miners scored runs in all five frames that started with Hope Moreno giving her squad an early 3-0 lead in the first inning against Siena. The La Habra, Calif., native connected on a full count two-run single to right that plated Taylor Sargent and Smith. Prior the Moreno’s single, San Diego native Kiki Pepi reached on an error and ended up crossing the dish on another Saints’ error that gave the Miners an early 1-0 edge.
Clayton followed with a two-run shot, on the first pitch, over left that gave UTEP a 5-0 lead.
Siena’s Brooke Taylor answered with a two-run home run of her own, but the Miners wouldn’t let it bring them down.
Chatsworth, Calif., native Kaitlin Ryder came up with an RBI single to right that scored Moreno in the third. The following frame, Ryder would tally another RBI after being hit by a pitch with bases juiced and sophomore transfer Mariah Ellis, a Los Angeles native, connected on a two-run single to left that scored Moreno and Rialto, Calif., native Pamala Baber. It was Ellis’s first RBI with the Orange and Blue.
In the fifth, Sokoloski led off with her first triple of the season on a hard slapper that bounced over short and into left field past the fielder. Sargent helped the Miners chalk up their first win of 2017 after she singled to right center to pave the way for Sokoloski’s game-winning run.
Cretz threw 5.0 innings, allowing only three hits, two runs (one earned), two walks and a career-high seven strikeouts.
Sargent went 2-for-4 with an RBI and run scored, while Moreno went a perfect 2-for-2, two runs and two RBI. Moreno was also reached base after being hit by a pitch, her third of the season. Moreno now ranks no. 4 on the program’s all-time list with 21 HBP’s.
UTEP’s 10 hits and 10 runs were both season highs.
UTEP 7, Utah State 5
After confusion about who was the designated ‘home’ and ‘away’ teams, the Miners were under the impression that they were the ‘home’ team. But the school’s officials and umpires discussed the matter and Utah State was appointed the ‘home’ team.
It didn’t matter as UTEP went up 7-0, crossing the dish in the first three frames. In the first with one out, Sokoloski got a hold of her second triple of the day that followed with a Pepi RBI single to center.
Smith gave the Miners a 2-0 advantage after she connected her third home run of the season over left on a 0-1 pitch. UTEP took a 6-0 lead after Ryder singled to right, Baber came up with a one-out single to left and Clayton drew a walk. Sokoloski reached on a fielder’s choice with bases loaded in which Ryder was thrown out at home. The stage was set up for Pepi as she swung on a 3-1 pitch and launched the ball over center for her first home run of 2017 and first career grand slam. Pepi’s five RBI tied her career high (five RBI vs. Incarnate Word on Feb. 11, 2016).
In the top third, Smith hit her second solo home run of the contest on a 3-1 pitch to give UTEP a 7-0 lead.
But the Aggies were relentless, scoring four runs in the bottom third behind Amanda Sheets two RBI and Bailey Lewis’s RBI.
Utah State would cut the lead to 7-5 in the sixth after Riley Plogger came up with an RBI double, but the rally would end quickly when Amee Aurhus was called for batter’s inference on a foul ball.
Kaitlin Fifield was inserted in the seventh to help her teammate Harrawood tally her first win. Fifield pitched an inning, allowing no hits, no walks and striking out an Aggie. She earned her first save of the season and third of her career.
Ryder, Pepi and Smith each went 2-for-3, while Baber, Ellis and Sokoloski each notched a knock.
Harrawood threw 6.0 frames, allowed seven hits, five runs (four earned), fanned four and only walk one in the victory.
The Miners will take on host school UC Riverside on Saturday (2 p.m. PT) and Utah State for a second time on Sunday (11:30 a.m.)