EL PASO, Texas – UTEP threatened to overtake Northern Colorado’s lead late Friday night with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning and came up just short.
But in game two of Saturday afternoon’s doubleheader, UTEP softball (2-6) found the elusive hit with runners in scoring position, in a tight game, it had been searching for in its 4-3 victory after Friday night and game one’s loss today, 10-7, against Northern Colorado (2-2) at Helen of Troy Field.
After leaving six runners on base including a bases-loaded opportunity in the second inning in the opening game, the Miners went into the bottom of the fifth inning hitting 1-for-9 with runners on base and trailing 3-2. That hit was a two-run shot by junior infielder Pate Cathey in the third inning for her first home run of the season.
“It seemed like we’ve had traffic on the base paths all weekend (but) that timely hit had been eluding us,” head coach T.J. Hubbard said.
Three runners loaded the bases with only one out to begin the fifth frame – the first time all game the Miners had more than one runner on base at a time.
Redshirt senior Ilena Santos popped a ball up just far enough into shallow left center that allowed sophomore Zaylie Calderon to tag up and sprint home for the tying run on the sacrifice fly. The next at-bat, with runners on second and first base, junior Kasey Flores pounded a ball that short hopped the second baseman and dribbled into the outfielder to allow the tie-breaking and winning run to score, 3-2.
“It was nice to finally get baserunners on and see something get through the infield and score,” Hubbard said. “That just comes down, from an experience standpoint, to get into a situation when you know that RBI is crucial at that moment.”
In the circle, Calderon – who was coming off a five-and-a-third, two-earned-run performance last night – entered in relief for sophomore Isabella Kelly in the fourth inning and tossed two consecutive three-up-three-down innings.
Calderon allowed just two baserunners – one hit and one walk – and, at one point, retired 10 of 11 Northern Colorado batters. She finished her outing with four shutout innings, two shutdown innings, three strikeouts and in the win column for the first time this season.
“The whole plan was to get through an inning or two (with Kelly) and get (Calderon) to come in and close it out,” Hubbard said. “I felt like with the way (Calderon) threw yesterday coming in behind (Kelly) would be good for her. I thought she was outstanding.”
Whereas runs were limited on both sides in game two, the Miners dug themselves into a 9-0 hole by the middle of the third inning in the morning contest after committing four errors and surrendering seven hits.
It was a situation that UTEP had been all too familiar with in its early season.
But the Miners put together a rally starting with Calderon beating out an infield single to third base. Two outs later, redshirt sophomore Idalis Mendez walked and Santos reached on a fielder’s choice to bring home Calderon, 10-1.
Senior Ariana Valles laced a single up the middle and Mendez crossed the plate, 10-2.
Hubbard called for freshman Toni Gonzalez to pinch hit for graduate Bryanna Molina. Gonzalez had 0-for-5 coming into the game. And with two strikes on her 0-for-6 looked imminent.
But Gonzalez found her pitch at the top of the zone and sent it for a ride to deep right-center field – a three-run blast to cut the Bears’ lead in half, 10-5, for the first hit of her career and to cap off two-out rally.
“That was a quality switch for sure,” Hubbard said.
Gonzalez put a charge into another ball into right field in the fifth inning for two more RBIs, five total.
“(Gonzalez) put her team in position to have a chance to win,” Hubbard said. “We scratched and clawed our way back to make it a competitive game. We just have got to learn to not get down by so much early.”
UTEP only had one base runner in the final two innings.
UTEP softball takes two weeks off in preparation for its next homestand with the 2021 Orange and Blue Classic from March 5-6. The Miners host Arizona State, Montana and Incarnate Word.