UNC Softball Earns First Win of Season

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Photo credit Dean Popejoy/UNC Athletics

As the snow and ice slowly began to melt around the state, the University of Northern Colorado softball team returned to the softball diamond at Helen of Troy Sports Complex in El Paso, Texas to open its season after a near 350-day hiatus.

The Bears came into this four-game series against the University of Texas El Paso winners of six of their last seven games. Before the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19, third year head coach Ben Garcia had led his team to a 10-4 record.

“It felt great to get on a field finally to play some games,” Garcia said.

The first game in this series began around four the afternoon of Feb. 19 as the sun began to set, casting long shadows into the outfield. The Miners entered this game winless after losing two games each to Oklahoma University and Abilene Christian University last week.

The Bears fell behind early in the second inning as sophomore starting pitcher Erin Caviness surrendered four hits to the Miners. The first of two runs came in after a base hit by UTEP senior Ariana Valles, followed by an RBI double from senior Ilena Santos. A pair of base hits from graduate student Bryanna Molina and freshman infielder Lexi Morales scored the second run as the Bears looked to get their own bats going.

UNC began the third inning with singles from junior infielder Paola Villegas and senior catcher Emma Brockmann. Junior infielder Carson Fischer stepped into the box and launched a pitch towards deep center field and over the wall. UNC went into the bottom of the third leading 4-2.

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UTEP responded quickly by earning another three base hits and tying the game at four after a second extra-base hit by Santos. Caviness closed the inning with a pair of strikeouts and held the Miners scoreless for the following two innings.

Later, in the top of the sixth inning, the Bears failed to bring runners home after three straight base hits from the bottom three batters in the lineup. The Miners would go one to score the game-winning run after a single from junior Pate Cathey and a double from sophomore outfielder Idalis Mendez.

Four Bears would step up to the plate in the seventh inning but were unsuccessful in bringing freshman infielder Alison Steinker home from second base. The Miners earned the first win of the series 5-4 and went into the intermission confident after earning their first win with 12 hits on Caviness and UNC relief pitcher Maggie Thurston.

“There were a few nerves tonight not being able to execute plays at times,” said Garcia. “We made mistakes that cost us both from a pitching and hitting standpoint.”

The follow-up game had its first pitch around seven o’clock with UTEP pitcher Zaylie Calderon giving up two early base hits to UNC sophomore Alyssa Wenzel and junior Paola Villegas. The Bears scored their first run in the second inning after junior Katie Simonsgaard hit an RBI single.

The Miners answered later in the third inning after three consecutive base hits with two outs. Santos earned her fifth base hit of the night and tied the game at one near the halfway point.

UTEP would take the lead after a solo home run from Idalis Mendez in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Bears wasted no time as the sixth inning would see two more runs scored after a double from Katie Simonsgaard and a base-clearing home run by sophomore catcher Bridgette Strobl.

“That was a team effort today,” said Garcia. “Everyone contributed in a good way.”

Erin Caviness returned as the relief pitcher in the bottom of the sixth inning and ended the game with strikeout to UTEP senior Ariana Valles. The Bears earned their first win of the season with a 3-2 final over the Miners.

“It was two close games that could have gone either way,” said Garcia. “We will take what we had today and learn from that.”

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