A walk-off home run by Rachel Howell highlighted American Southwest Conference softball action Saturday afternoon as UT Tyler swept Mississippi College 2-1 and 3-2 at UT Tyler Ballpark.
The 10th-ranked Patriots remain ahead of Louisiana College for first place in the ASC East Division with the two wins and improved to 21-5 on the year and 10-2 in conference play.
A pitching duel took place in Game 1 until the final inning. Starters Heather Abshire and Courtney Nunn kept batters off balance for most of the game and combined to allow eight hits, two walks and record seven strikeouts.
The game’s first runs didn’t occur until the seventh inning. Catherine Brand led off the seventh for Mississippi College and reached on an error. A ground out moved her to second and set up Ashley Greenway for an RBI double.
Greenway looped a 3-2 pitch over Katelyn Thomason’s head in left field to bring home Brand. Thomason was playing shallow and failed to reach the ball on a diving attempt.
The Patriots bats broke through in the bottom of the inning with a pair of solo home runs. Ashley Endsley hit an 0-1 pitch with one out over the left field fence to tie the game. Howell ended the contest with two outs on a solo home run to left.
“She struck that ball well,” Patriots head coach Mike Reed said. “Winning in that kind of fashion against a terrific team … and to come through with those at-bats late were huge.”
Abshire earned her 10th win of the season, allowing four hits and two walks in a complete-game effort. Nunn recorded her third loss of the year with four hits and two runs allowed in 6 2-3 innings pitched.
Game 2 began with a pitchers’ battle as well. Both teams combined for eight hits against starters Thomason and Kim Mason.
The Choctaws pushed across the first run of the contest in the fifth inning on a single by Tiffany Fuller. Valerie McAllister led off the inning with a single and later advanced to second on a passed ball. A sacrifice bunt by Macey Lee moved McAllister to third, which set up Fuller for the RBI single over third base.
UT Tyler responded in the bottom of the inning to take the lead on RBI hits by Joey Cronin and Abshire. Cronin singled up the middle to score Carli Wheeler. Abshire lined a single into right field that plated Brittany Hay. Cronin was gunned down at home trying to score the Patriots’ third run.
The Patriots added a run in the sixth on a two-out hit by Thomason to extend their lead to two. Lauren Robenalt reached on an error and later scored on Thomason’s single to center field.
“That’s what we need from our senior,” Reed said about Thomason’s single. “She had a rough day at the plate, but she made an adjustment and had a big at-bat for us.”
Mississippi College threatened in the seventh inning and cut the Patriots’ led to one. A two-out hit by Sarah Smaltz scored Lee from second to make it a 2-1 ballgame. Brooke Smitherman followed with a walk, but a ground out by Colvin ended the contest.
Abshire picked up the win in Game 2 as well. She relieved Thomason in the fifth inning with the Patriots trailing 1-0 to improve her record to 11-2.
“Their pitchers did a great job on us today,” Reed said. “I felt like we made some adjustments late in both game and had some good at-bats. Anytime you can get pitching like we did today, especially Abshire to go nine (innings) to keep us in the game so when we do score late (we’re ahead).”
UT Tyler continues with ASC play at 5 p.m. Tuesday against I-20 rival East Texas Baptist at UT Tyler Ballpark. The Tigers are third in the ASC East with a 7-3 conference record.
NOTES: Retired director of Northeast Texas Fellowship of Christian Athletes Gary Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1. Smith also served as chaplain for UT Tyler’s athletic department during his time as a FCA director, conducting bible studies, game day chapels and traveling with teams. Smith retired during the fall after eight years on the job.
UT Tyler Ballpark, Tyler
No. 10 UT Tyler 2, Mississippi College 1
MC 000 000 1 — 1 4 1
UTT 000 000 2 — 2 4 2
Courtney Nunn and Sarah Smaltz. Heather Abshire and Chandler McCrury. W – Abshire (10-2) L – Nunn (7-3). LOB – Miss. College 5, UT Tyler 3. E – Macey Lee; Brittany Hay (2). 2B – Ashley Greenway. HR – Ashley Endsley, Rachel Howell. SB – Macey Lee. SHB – Ashley Greenway; Brittney Batten, Abshire.
No. 10 UT Tyler 2, Mississippi College 1
MC 000 010 1 — 1 7 2
UTT 000 021 x — 3 7 1
Kim Mason and Sarah Smaltz. Katelyn Thomason, Heather Abshire (5) and Chandler McCrury. W – Abshire (11-2) L – Mason (5-7) LOB – Miss. College 9, UT Tyler 8. E – Megan Colvin, Mason; Whitney Burt. 2B – Rachel Howell. SB – Lauren Robenalt (2). SHB – Macey Lee; Brittany Hay, Thomason.