Kaitlin Ryder connected on a three-run home run and El Paso native Erika Harrawood earned a victory as UTEP defeated Middle Tennessee 7-6, in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.
Ryder tallied two more RBI in game two but the Blue Raiders (10-12, 1-4 Conference USA) held on to win their first ever game in El Paso, 5-2, over the Miners (6-19, 1-4 C-USA).
“[Middle Tennessee] is a scrappy team and much improved,” fourth-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “They kept fighting and did a better job, especially in the second game.”
The series finale is Sunday at noon. Fan can get in free with canned food for Home Run for the Hungry.
UTEP 7, Middle Tennessee 6
Harrawood (2-7) won her first ever game in her hometown, hurling 6.1 frames with five runs (four earned) while striking out four and walking none.
“She did a great job,” Echo-Hawk said about Harrawood’s performance. “She got some really big outs for us. Even in the that first inning there were runners on and she did a nice job of getting herself out of those tough situations. She did it multiple times throughout the game. It was just a great and solid performance. She didn’t give up too many big hits with runners in scoring position.”
The UTEP offense gave Harrawood a comfortable 7-0 lead before Middle Tennessee made a bid for a comeback.
Hope Moreno put the Miners on the board in first inning on a groundout to second base. Moreno still recorded an RBI as Lindsey Sokoloski crossed the dish for an early 1-0 advantage. Sokoloski reached on an error and advanced to second. She would eventually find herself at third after Kiki Pepi singled.
It was in the second inning Ryder blew the game open with her second dinger of the season. The junior drove a 1-2 pitch over left that put her squad up 4-0.
In the fourth, Courtney Clayton singled in Taylor Sargent, who had led off the inning with a single to left. Pepi then used a first-pitch double up the middle, scoring Clayton and Ariel Blair for a 7-0 lead.
Middle Tennessee scored two runs in the sixth behind a RBI each from Morgan Harris and Dani Munoz. Things got interesting in the seventh when the Blue Raiders crossed the dish four more times, but Devyn Cretz notched her first career save by forcing a groundout by Kaylyn Slatter with one runner on to end the ball game.
Pepi finished 2-for-3 with two RBI (19 RBI in 2017). Sargent produced her first multi-hit game (2-for-3) since March 5 and Pamala Baber finished with a 2-for-3 outing and a run scored. Ryder produced a season-high three RBI and six putouts from behind the plate. Ryder made her first start at catcher since Feb. 26 against Utah State.
Harrawood, at one point in the ball game, retired 10 consecutive batters that started in the second inning. The Blue Raiders went down in order the next three innings before Precious Birdsong led off the sixth inning with a single.
UTEP 2, Middle Tennessee 5
The Blue Raiders took an early 2-0 lead in the second frame off a RBI each from Kristin Uselton and Keely McGee.
The fighting Miners answered with a pair of runs of their own off Ryder’s bat in the third inning. Cortney Smith led off with a single while Blair used an infield single to reach first. Ryder came in to pinch hit for Sokoloski and came up with a two-run single to left on a 1-0 pitch that plated Smith and Blair.
After two scoreless innings, Munoz doubled off the wall with one out in the sixth. Lexi Cushing came in as a pinch hitter and singled in Munoz for a 3-2 edge. After Kirstyn Cuccia popped out to second, Uselton came up with a big two-run home run over left. Baber, who made the start at left, almost came up with the steal above the fence, but she couldn’t hold on to the ball in the valiant effort.
“It was in her glove,” Echo-Hawk said. “It’s like I told [the team], sometimes when things are not going your way, everything doesn’t go your way. She had a glove on it and almost made a great play.”
The Miners looked to rally as Clayton, with two outs, doubled to left. Ryder then followed with a single that advanced Clayton to third. But Pepi flied out to center to end the contest.
Clayton tallied another multi-hit game, going 2-for-3. It was her ninth multi-hit game of the season and no. 51 for her career. Ryder produced two more hits, while Smith finished 2-for-3.
The pitching staff as a unit on Saturday, only walked two batters and struck out seven Blue Raiders. Cretz (4-5), the game two starter, struck out three in a complete game effort.
“[The pitching staff] is getting much better and much improved,” Echo-Hawk said. “We just need to play better defense behind the pitchers. Sometimes we get on our heels on defense and should have more of an attack kind of mentality.”
UTEP, however, did turn another double play in game two. It’s the tenth double play turned in 2017.