Back on track: Patriots take opener

UT Tyler's Carli Wheeler makes leaping catch on Friday. Courtesy Photo By Sherri Batten

It had been a couple of weeks since UT Tyler left the field after a disappointing finish in the American Southwest Conference Softball Tournament.

The Patriots’ return to the diamond was much different as the NCAA Division III West Regional got underway Friday at UT Tyler Ballpark.

Freshman pitcher Kelsie Batten was impressive in the circle and senior Carli Wheeler had a web gem in left field as the No. 1 seed Patriots scored a 4-1 win over No. 6 seed Southwestern.

“We did not play as well as we hoped in the conference tournament,” said UT Tyler coach Mike Reed, whose club finished runner-up to rival East Texas Baptist. “We prepared the last couple of weeks. We talked about wanting to battle on every out … pitch-by-pitch, and game-by-game. I was very pleased with our focus and energy — it was our best in a couple of months.”

The Patriots (42-4) will play No. 3 Linfield (Ore.) at 11 a.m. today. The Wildcats (36-7) lost to No. 4 Redlands (Calif.), 3-0.

Southwestern (34-13) was eliminated later Friday after dropping a 7-5 decision to No. 2 seed Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Calif.) (32-12) in an elimination game.

Batten (21-1), with her sister Brittney as her battery mate, kept the Pirates in check, throwing seven innings, allowing just three hits, striking out eight and not walking a batter.

Things, however, did start shaky for the Patriots.

Karen Ramirez singled and Ashleigh Scott doubled to open the game. They advanced a base on the throw to third.

Then on a squeeze bunt, a sliding Ramirez got under the tag at home as Tessa Galloway reached first on the fielder’s choice.

The Pirates still had two on and nobody out as Reed went out to talk to his freshman pitcher.

Whatever he said settled her down. Batten struck out two of the next three hitters and allowed just one other hit the remainder of the game.

In the bottom of the first, UT Tyler struck back with two runs.

Ashley Endsley, who had singled, scored on Heather Abshire’s double. Rachel Howell followed with a cue shot down the first base line that eluded both the first baseman and the second baseman. The SW catcher could not glove the throw home and Abshire scored for a 2-1 lead.

In the third, Endsley singled and Kristin Anderson pinch ran. Abshire reached on an error and Wheeler ran for her.

On a double steal, Wheeler went to second and Anderson came home. Howell’s double then scored Wheeler for the 4-1 advantage.

In the sixth, Wheeler made one of the top defensive plays of the season.

SW’s Galloway launched a rocket that appeared to be a home run. However, Wheeler drifted back, leaped, caught the ball with the yellow showing like a snow cone, crashed into the wall and held onto the ball.

The play received a standing ovation from the crowd of 500-plus, plus high-fives from her teammates.

“I was actually surprised that I caught it,” Wheeler said. “I was just glad that I could do whatever I could for my team. Kelsie was pitching such a great game.”

Ramirez led the Pirates with two hits.

The Pirates, champions of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament, were appearing in a regional for the first time since 2010.

“We’re glad to be back in the mix of things at regionals,” Southwestern coach Angela Froboese said. “I thought we were a little tight defensively. Once we settled in, I thought we played like we were capable.”

Pirate freshman pitcher Kelsey Kingston (26-8) struck out two and allowed just two earned runs.

Howell and Endsley each had two hits for the Patriots.

PATRIOT POINTS: Tickets to the regional are $7 (adults) and $3 (children 12 and under). Children 2 and under are admitted free.

———

West Regional

Game 1

No. 5 UT Tyler 4,

Southwestern 1

Southwestern 100 000 0 — 1 3 3

UT Tyler 202 000 0 — 4 8 0

Kelsey Kingston and Abigail O’Connor. Kelsie Batten and Brittney Batten.

W – K. Batten (21-1), L – Kingston (26-8).

LOB – SW: 4, UT Tyler 5.

2B – SW: Karen Ramirez, Ashleigh Scott. UT Tyler: Heather Abshire, Rachel Howell.

SH – SW: Tessa Galloway. UT Tyler: B. Batten, Vanessa Carrizales. SB – UT Tyler: Kristin Anderson, Carli Wheeler.

TIME: 1:38. ATT: 510.

RECORDS — Southwestern 34-12, UT Tyler 42-4.

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