Above photo provided by the UMHB Athletics Department
BELTON, Texas- The UMHB softball team won its third consecutive series this weekend, sweeping Hardin-Simmons as the Cru clinched a spot in the ASC Tournament.
The trio of victories promoted UMHB to a 22-12 record overall, with a 16-8 mark in ASC play. It sets up a must-see showdown next Friday and Saturday in Belton when Concordia (TX), tied with UMHB for first place in the West Division, comes to Belton. It will be the final regular season games for both teams.
HSU entered with a respectable record, above .500 in league play, but dropped to 13-19 on the year and 9-11 in the ASC.
After Friday’s doubleheader was pushed back to Saturday due to rain, the Cru opened the series with a 4-3 victory, with all but one of the game’s seven runs being scored in the third inning.
The offense took time to click, but began in the top of the third, when HSU pushed two runs across on a home run that traveled down the left field line, and barely stayed fair as it passed the foul pole.
It was the first of two homers UMHB starter Bayleigh Grogan gave up, but the Crusader offense countered in the bottom of the frame, scoring four runs of its own.
HSU starter Kaylen Washington, who had given up just one hit entering the inning, began struggling with command, walking catcher Tyeann Johnson in the first at bat. A base hit from center fielder Lexi Harris and an error charged to HSU shortstop Sarah Diessner soon followed, though Johnson was thrown out trying to advance from second on the error.
As Diessner lost her footing on the left field grass and dropped the flyball, Johnson, who had expected a flyout,took off from second. The only issue was left fielder Katie Marshall fired the ball straight to third baseman Aubrianna Salazar, who placed the tag on a “bang-bang play” that was ruled an out by the second base umpire.
Despite an obvious frustration at the questionable call, the Cru broke through on the next play, as second baseman Elissa Elliott ripped a double to left center field that bounced off the top of the wall and back into the field of play. The two-bagger scored Harris from second, and designated player Bailey Wagner followed that by clearing the bases on a three-run homer to nearly the same spot, putting UMHB in front 4-2.
A solo home run from HSU’s Karis Hessert cut the deficit to one in the sixth, but Grogan closed out the contest in the seventh, notching a strikeout and inducing two popouts to seal the victory.
The second game of the doubleheader also featured a UMHB win by a score of 8-3, as the Cru earned the series win.
UMHB head coach Melissa Mojica’s squad never trailed in the contest, as the Crusaders held the momentum for the majority of the game, scoring first on a fielding error charged to Salazar, HSU’s starting pitcher.
Salazar had a performance to forget, tallying just one out in the first inning before being replaced. She clearly lacked command, tossing two wild pitches, and walking a batter, though she did not allow a hit.
Haven Williams came out of the bullpen sooner than expected to replace Salazer in the circle, and had a worse outing than her predecessor, giving up seven earned runs on nine hits and a walk.
The Cru jumped all over Williams in the fourth, scoring four runs, all of which came off of extra-base hits. Harris stepped to the plate with two outs in the frame, and ripped a triple that bounced off the center field wall, scoring Johnson and right fielder Alyssa Bates from first and second. HSU had scored a run of its own to tie the score at one in the top of the inning, but UMHB pulled ahead an never looked back.
With the home crowd roaring, shortstop Milly Cesare stepped to the plate in the following at bat, and took the first pitch she saw from Williams over the left center field wall for a two-run homer.
The Cowgirls matched power with power, swatting two homers of their own in the sixth to cut the UMHB lead to 5-3. UMHB starter Camryn Rucker had an especially good first five innings, firing a no-hitter through three, and giving up just four hits and a run. But her stay in the circle was abruptly ended, when Kate Tovar, who had the RBI single in the fourth, launched a pitch deep to left field that cleared the fence.
Jules Martinez was called upon to pitch for UMHB, but the first batter she faced, Hessert, also drove a homer out of the park.
The UMHB offense responded quickly, as Elliott sealed the Cru’s victory with a three-run home run that richoted off the left field foul pole in the bottom of the sixth.
The series finale was also won by the Cru, as the hosts sealed a trip to the ASC Tournament with a 9-2 victory.
The UMHB offense opened the game swinging on Sunday afternoon, as three runs were scored in the first inning. Harris and Cesare opened the game with singles and were driven home on a sac fly from Wagner and double off the bat of left fielder Bailey Eggleston.
The Cru never looked back, and used that momentum built at the plate to face HSU’s offense. The Cowgirls threatened with two runners in scoring position in the fifth, but Grogan, pitching for the second time in the series, struck out consecutive batters to escape with the fifth scoreless frame of her outing.
HSU did score two in the sixth, but the Cru put the game away in the bottom of that inning, scoring four runs, two of which crossed the plate on a double from Elliott.
Elliott stood out as a powerful bat in the lineup throughout all three contests, going 4-for-8 with six RBI. The Emory, Texas native registered at least one hit and one RBI in every game. Cesare also had a hit in every game, going 5-for-10.
UMHB used just four pitchers all weekend, as Grogan started games one and three, and fired a total of 12 innings. She threw a complete game Saturday, and came back Sunday with a quality, five-inning start. She gave up 14 hits, three earned runs, one walk and struck out eight on the weekend. She earned the win in both games, and moved to 14-8 on the year.
The series against Concordia begins Friday with a doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. CT. Saturday’s series finale has a first pitch of 12 p.m. CT.