BELTON- Entering Wednesday’s doubleheader against Hardin-Simmons, the ASC’s first-place team, UMHB head coach Melissa Mojica offered her hitters a piece of advice when it came to the HSU pitching.
“We were looking for something hard to hit,” Mojica said of going up against HSU’s pitching. “[I told them], ‘She’s either going to come in, or she’s going to go out. Pick one and go with it.’”
The Cowgirls simply do not walk batters. And had proved effective for most of this season, as HSU assembled a 22-3 overall record, not to mention an 11-1 mark in conference play that was two games better than UMHB, sitting firmly in second place.
And HSU did not walk many in the Crusader lineup on Wednesday. In fact, a total of three walks were issued, forcing UMHB to put the bat on the ball, and see what happened. It worked well too, as the Cru took multi-run leads in each of the afternoon’s two contests, never surrendering the advantage.
“Our goal is to come out swinging,” Mojica noted. “Hardin-Simmons pitchers throw strikes and go right after you. [Their pitching] fit into our gameplan well. Eventually our kids were being the pitches they were looking for. We came out and hit early in the count. With that LeTourneau game last week, again against a great pitcher, they felt like they had to take a pitch and wait and see. It didn’t work well for us, so we had to make sure we changed that.”
There was a span prior to this point that it seemed the pitching would be on point one game, but the hitting was not there. And vice versa the next time UMHB took the field. But in the last few weeks, through a sweep of ETBU, a series win at LeTourneau, and most recently, the doubleheader sweep of HSU, the pitching and hitting has combined to form an unstoppable unit that is two wins away from eclipsing the 20-win mark.
“We’ve had some games where the pitching was good, the hitting was not,” Mojica noted. “Then the hitting was good, but the defense wasn’t. In the last 10 games or so, we’ve been pretty consistent in all the areas, with pitching, hitting, and defense. It’s why we’re winning some games right now.”
Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over HSU marked the Cru’s fourth straight, and after being unranked two weeks prior, UMHB is now ranked No. 22 in the nation. HSU was No. 19, but after the Cru’s pair of wins, re-entry to the Top 20 could be in the cards in the coming week.
“Every game is important,” Mojica said. “But it was huge to get two wins over Hardin-Simmons. They are a talented team and have some great pitching. It gives us a little bit of a relief [in the standings], but there’s still a lot of ball left to be played.”
Game three of the series was canceled due to Thursday’s weather forecast, so the opponents remain knotted–for now–atop the conference standings, each holding an 11-3 league mark. However, the Cru closes the season by playing the third-place, 10th-place, eighth-place, and seventh-place teams in the conference.
Granted, no series can be overlooked, and that is not something Mojica and her team are prepared to do. But with HSU facing ETBU, McMurry, and UT-Dallas over the next three weeks–three of the league’s top five teams–UMHB knows it could control its own destiny by simply winning the games on its schedule.
“We’re moving into a part of the schedule where we need to just keep moving, and not stress so much about the opponent,” Mojica added. “Hardin-Simmons has some tougher opponents coming up in the next couple weeks, so it’ll just be interesting how it all plays out. There’s so much left to play.”
One of the recurring themes over the last handful of weeks has been the performance of the pitching staff, or more specifically, Grason Long and Kami Flores. The duo has accounted for 170 of the team’s 182.1 innings this season, and every inning since the first game of the ETBU series on March 24. In fact, Long, with 86 innings pitched, is No. 1 in the ASC. No. 2? Flores, at 84 innings.
“They keep us in the game, for seven innings straight,” Mojica said. “We don’t have to score 10 runs to win a game. Obviously, that makes it a lot easier. We’re putting 3-5 runs on the board, and we can win with that, because our pitching staff is doing so well.”
Long’s 81 strikeouts is second in the league, while Flores 10 wins in the circle is tied for the best mark in the ASC. The duo differentiates in terms of approach; Long is a riseball pitcher who tends to stay up in the zone, while Flores uses her changeup a bit more and works down and away. As Mojica says, “they complement each other.”
“Grason has developed her changeup a lot, and Kami just keeps doing what she’s been doing,” Mojica said. “We’re finding ways to beat teams with two different styles of pitching.”