Miners Win Series Behind Fifield’s Strong Pitching

Freshman+Courtney+Clayton+throws+the+ball+to+second+base+looking+for+a+double+play+at+the+Helen+of+Troy+Softball+Complex+on+Sunday+Sept.28.

Ruby Cerino

Freshman Courtney Clayton throws the ball to second base looking for a double play at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex on Sunday Sept.28.

Jason Green, Staff Reporter

The UTEP softball team won one in dramatic fashion on Saturday against the University of Southern Mississippi.

The Miners also lost one in not so dramatic fashion.

Then, they took the final of a three game weekend set from the Golden Eagles with a 10-4 win on Sunday afternoon at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex. The series win is the first over Southern Miss since 2012.

In the first game of the doubleheader, the Miners’ bats came alive when needed. After two UTEP errors allowed two unearned runs in the top of the third inning, senior preseason all-conference outfielder Ashley Eldridge stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. Eldridge watched a few pitches until she got one that she deposited over the right field wall to give the Miners the lead.

Eldridge felt that her team came into the game prepared and was ready to fight for every run.

“We worked hard this week at practice and we didn’t want to just lay down and die,” Eldridge said. “We came back and fought, which is awesome.”

Sophomore pitcher Kaitlin Fifield has been the team’s ace so far this season and was doing a good job of gathering her composure following the unearned runs. After two innings with no hits, Fifield hit a rough patch in the top of the sixth inning. Fifield allowed three runs to the Golden Eagles but was once again picked up by her teammates in the bottom of the inning.

Sophomore infielder Kiki Pepi drove in a run with a single and the Miners pulled level.

Fifield regained her composure again and did not give up a run in the top of the seventh and final inning. The story of the first of Saturday’s two games was the resiliency of the Miners and the final half inning was no different. Eldridge led off the inning with a single and had a great view two batters later as freshman infielder Courtney Clayton hit an absolute bomb of a walk-off home run.

After the game, Clayton was happy with her part in a great team win.

“I was just trying to do whatever I could to help the team. They’re a great hitting team and we knew that they would come in in extra innings and score some runs,” Clayton said. “I was just looking to do whatever I could to help the team.”

Head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk was happy with her team’s resiliency and the play of her freshman infielder.

“They did a great job of battling the whole time,” Echo-Hawk said. “Timely hits, timely home runs, then coming up big in the seventh inning, especially for a freshman, that’s good stuff for the future.”

The Miners celebrated their 7-5 victory over USM and then quickly prepared to face them again a mere 30 minutes later.

It looked for a while like the Miners were going to be able to continue their game of “anything you can do, I can do better” throughout the second game as well. After junior pitcher Danielle Pearson allowed a run in the top of the first inning, junior infielder Kawehiokalani Netane hit a home run to pull the Miners level.

In the bottom of the second Clayton’s hot hitting would carry over from the first game with a leadoff single. Freshman infielder Taylor Sargent would then bring her home with a triple to take a 2-1 lead.

In the top of the fourth, USM would take a 4-2 lead after several seeing eye singles found their way through the infield to score three runs. A fourth could have scored had Eldridge not gunned down a runner at home—from deep in right field—to end the inning.

The resilient Miners would once again tie the Golden Eagles in the bottom of the fourth following another Sargent RBI and one by freshman catcher Linda Garcia.

The Miners were not resilient enough to recover from a huge Southern Miss fifth inning, however.

Several Miners pitchers combined to allow eleven hits and seven earned runs during the inning. The Miners were very close to stopping the bleeding when a few seeing eye singles squeaked through the infield and USM seemed to come up with big hits even when down in the count.

Echo-Hawk felt that her pitchers had a lot of trouble putting the ball where they wanted it and that led to the big inning.

“Danielle (Pearson) came back in and got two quick outs. We just didn’t do a very good job of putting the ball where we needed to in the counts we needed to,” Echo-Hawk. “I think four of the hits we gave up we were ahead in the count and you just can’t do that.”

Before the game was over, the Miners would score two more and load the bases as Pepi hit into a double play to end the game. The Miners would lose the second game by a final score of 13-6.

In the first inning of Sunday’s series finale, UTEP allowed three runs following several fielding errors. All three runs would end up being unearned. Fifield knew that the Miners’ potent offense would help to get her team back in the game.

“I knew today we were going to hit no matter what. I just couldn’t get down cause if I got down it just wasn’t going to help my defense out,” said Fifield. “That’s what I was thinking about—just stay up and be as positive as I could.”

Fifield’s confidence in her offense proved to be justified as the Miners put up six runs in the bottom of the first inning. Junior infielder Kawehiokalani Netane and senior outfielder Ashley Eldridge drove in three runs combined as the Miners batted around in the first. Eldridge would end the day with four hits—a career high.

An elated Netane felt that she and her team had a better approach at the plate today.

“Yesterday was a little rough. I was like, just relax up there—just relax. All of us really did. We were a little tense yesterday and then as a team we all were just like, you know what, it’s just another game—we’re going to get through it,” said Netane. “It’s a lot easier when we play that way.”

On the day Netane went 3-for-3 with three runs scored.

After seeing her team score double the Golden Eagles’ total to start the game off, Fifield seemed to relax and began to work her way through the Southern Miss lineup. Fifield mixed speeds and locations very effectively and finished the day with no earned runs and five strikeouts—due in large part to a new off-speed drop ball that she debuted in the game.

Coach Tobin Echo-Hawk was happy to see her ace come back after two recent rough outings.

“Her last two starts haven’t been her best,” Echo-Hawk said. “It was nice to see her come out and have that confidence and get back on track.”

The bats have been there for the Miners all of last year and almost every game this season. The pitching finally appears to be catching up and that could prove to be trouble for the rest of the conference as the season winds down.

The Miners hit the road next weekend to face conference foe Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech lost two out of three against Charlotte this weekend and currently sit just below the Miners in the C-USA West Division standings.