Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
AUSTIN– Having played against the nation’s best on consecutive weekends, the UMHB softball team was well-prepared entering its ASC road series at Concordia (TX) on Friday and Saturday.
That preparation was evident, as the Crusaders notched the series sweep, outscoring the Tornadoes 14-5 in the weekend’s three contests. UMHB has eclipsed the 20-win mark for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
UMHB’s success in the series opener was paced by the pitching of Bayleigh Grogan, who put together perhaps one of her best outings of the year, going 6.0 innings with just three hits and a run allowed. That kept Concordia quiet at the plate while the Crusader lineup began clicking, scoring Lexi Harris in the first inning on an error, and two more in the second on Blakely Niles’ triple. UMHB protected the lead, rolling to its 20th victory of the year, widening the margin to 5-1 on Izzy Gutierrez’s RBI single up the middle in the sixth. Concordia scored once in the bottom of the seventh, cutting it to 5-2, but that was as close as the Tornadoes got. Grason Long, pitching in relief, threw exactly eight more pitches, forcing a flyout and a popout, and closed out the win.
It was a foreshadowing of the second contest in Friday’s doubleheader, as Concordia was once again limited to just two runs, as the Crusaders earned the series victory in a 4-2 win, despite having three less hits than the Tornadoes. That was in large part a credit to the play of Rachel Williams. The reigning ASC Pitcher of the Week put together another complete game outing, her sixth of the season, and while she allowed 11 total baserunners (9 hits, 2 walks), Concordia was unable to capitalize.
UMHB jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the first, with Gutierez doubling and scoring Harris, before Niles’ sacrifice flyout brought Bailey Eggleston home. Concordia tied the score in the fifth at two apiece on an RBI base hit with two outs, but the Cru delivered the last strike, scoring twice more in the seventh, capped by Julia Crofut’s RBI double into the left-center field gap.
UMHB completed the sweep on Saturday afternoon, taking the series finale, 5-1. Grogan picked up her second win of the weekend, this time coming in as a reliever in the second inning. This time it was Eggleston setting the pace early, as she drew a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded in the third. Another walk to Gutierrez, the next batter, scored Jessica Miller from third, making the score 2-0 in favor of the Cru. An RBI double in the fifth from Concordia cut into the lead, before a three-run seventh inning put the game away.
With UMHB coming off its fourth conference series sweep of the year, here’s a closer look at how it unfolded:
Storylines throughout the series
Harris hit well from the leadoff spot: Batting at the top of the order, center fielder Lexi Harris finished the series with a pair of two-hit performances, raising her batting average from .370 to .382, going 5-for-10 at the plate. She also scored a run in each game, using her speed to cross the plate on a wild pitch in the seventh on Saturday, which initiated the three-run inning.
Grogan was stellar in the circle: Continuing with the recognition of individual performances, Grogan was exceptional after struggling at points against Belhaven and ETBU the last two weekends. She moved to 9-6 on the year after firing 6.0 innings in game three, and allowed just one run on five hits. She did not walk a single batter and struck out seven, which was a season-high. That came in addition to her performance in game one, and she threw 12.0 innings over the course of a series for the first time since the Feb. 11-12 duels at Hardin-Simmons.
Concordia never led at any point: In each of the three games, UMHB scored first, and Concordia was unable to overcome the deficit. In fact, the Tornadoes tied the score just once over the series’ 21 innings, and never held the lead at any point. The Crusaders’ play best when they have an early lead to protect; in their last five wins, UMHB has scored first.
After six straight road contests, UMHB returns to Belton, hosting LeTourneau in a three-game conference series, beginning Thursday at 6 p.m. at Dee Dillon Field. The series will be closed out in a noon doubleheader on Friday. UMHB is now 22-9, 15-7 in conference play, while Concordia drops to 11-17, 8-13 in ASC action. The Cru remains tied with Hardin-Simmons for third place in the conference standings.