A strong display of hitting and baserunning by the University of Northern Colorado softball team led to a season opening series split with the Miners of the University of Texas El Paso Saturday afternoon.
Game one of the double-header saw the Bears continue to string together base hits after earning 16 hits over the first two games against the Miners. The Bears went on to earn 17 base hits in the second day of the season opener.
The Bears got out of the gates fast by scoring seven runs in the second inning on UTEP pitcher Mackenzee Collins. UNC junior Paola Villegas began the afternoon with a single and later scored on a double from Nebraska transfer Carson Fischer. Three more Bears reached on singles during the inning extending the hits earned to five.
“It will be very important for us to continue to have a deep bench and play as a team throughout the season,” said Ben Garcia, UNC’s third year head coach.
The Bears put two more runs on the board in the third inning after a one-out double from senior catcher Maddee Blood-Smyth and a single by lead-off hitter Alyssa Wenzel. The Miners quickly responded with a five-run inning after UNC starting pitcher Lainey Hanehan surrendered two base hits to UTEP sophomore Zaylie Calderon and senior Ariana Valles. Graduate student Bryanna Molina stepped up and blasted a base-clearing home run over the fence, bringing the Bears lead down to just four runs.
The Bears scored just one run in the last four innings after a solo home run from senior Mady Young in the fourth inning. Junior pitcher Maggie Thurston came in for relief in the fifth inning after the Bears gave up two more runs after three of the first four UTEP Miners earned base hits. Thurston earned her first save of the year after striking out pinch-hitter Toni Gonzalez in the seventh inning.
The final game of the weekend had its first pitch around 2 p.m. as UNC pitcher Erin Caviness earned her second start of the season. The Bears jumped out to a quick two run lead after a lead-off double from Wenzel, who later scored on an RBI single from Villegas, who finished 2-3 on the day.
UNC scored just one more run in the third inning on an RBI double from junior Katie Simonsgaard. Caviness turned in another strong performance from the circle by earning five strikeouts in the first four innings.
Sadly, those strikeouts would not be enough to put the Miners down after a base hit by Calderon put her in position to score on the follow-up home run by UTEP junior Pate Cathey. The UNC lead remained at one-run going into the fifth inning, where the Miners would put three runners on base and score two on a sacrifice fly from senior Ilena Santos and an RBI single from junior Kasey Flores.
The Bears managed to put just two runners on base in the final two innings, but a strong relief performance by Calderon would give the Miners its second win of the season. The Bears earned the split in the season opening series going 2-2 at the Helen of Troy Sports Complex in El Paso.
“We could have easily been 4-0 this weekend or 0-4,” said Garcia. “Hopefully, we learned about how we need to execute in close games.”
UNC will head to St. George, Utah this weekend for a round-robin series against Dixie State, Utah State and Weber State. The Bears will play five games as they look to keep the bats going.