A couple of weeks ago, TWU softball coach Richie Bruister called a relief effort by Brandi Lander — in which she struck out five of the six batters she faced for a save — “the best performance I’ve seen since I’ve been at TWU.”
Last weekend he probably could have paid Larisa Garcia a similar compliment after the senior posted three victories in 17 innings of work over a three-day span that saw the No. 12 Pioneers (22-6, 3-0 Lone Star) win four of the five games they played — all on the road.
Three of those victories came in a conference-opening sweep at Texas A&M-Kingsville, and were followed by a doubleheader split Sunday against Texas A&M International.
Garcia, who allowed just one unearned run over the weekend, improved to 7-1 with five complete games and a 1.79 earned run average. On Tuesday, she was named Lone Star Conference Pitcher of the Week.
“She really stepped up and pitched well,” Bruister said. “She’s pitching with extreme confidence right now, keeping the batters off balance and hitting her spots. She was on fire. Her performance was very nice to have in a long weekend.”
TWU will be busy this week, beginning with hosting the Best Western Premier Spring Fling tournament, which began Tuesday and concludes today. The Pioneers return to LSC play when they entertain Abilene Christian for a single game at 6 p.m. Friday and a 1 p.m. doubleheader Saturday.
Garcia, now 8-1 after winning Tuesday, pitched five innings with eight strikeouts Friday in TWU’s 4-2 win in the first game of a doubleheader against A&M-Kingsville. On Saturday, she rolled to a 9-0 shutout by allowing just three hits in a run-rule win.
On Sunday she bounced back to pitch another complete game in a 4-1 win in the nightcap against A&M International, striking out five.
TWU’s pitching staff is a trio of aces, with Katie Hines and Lander joining Garcia to work the circle for all but seven innings of the Pioneers’ 177 total innings played.
“They complement each other really well,” Bruister said. “They’re different pitchers with different styles, and if a team figures out one of them, then we can just bring in another. And in softball it often takes awhile to adjust to a different pitcher.”
Hines (8-1) led the team with her 1.68 ERA entering Tuesday, while Lander (8-3) has matched Garcia and Hines for the team lead in wins. Lander, Garcia and Hines are tied for third in the LSC in wins.
Sunday’s 4-0 loss in the first game of a doubleheader ended the Pioneers’ 11-game win streak, which tied the school mark set in 2002 ... Junior Bailey Vrazel, a two-time national stolen bases champion, stole two Sunday to reach 27 for the season ... Vrazel, who led the Pioneers with a .436 batting average entering Tuesday, had a conference-high 44 hits. ... TWU is in a three-way tie atop the LSC standings with West Texas A&M and Midwestern State.
Johnson returns to action
Senior Brittany Johnson’s return to action over the weekend — her first performances in more than a year due to injury — couldn’t have been timed any better. She gets to close out her collegiate career with final appearances at
the upcoming Midwest Independent Conference and USAG Collegiate national championships.
Johnson rejoined the team for two events Sunday to help the Pioneers win a dual meet against Lindenwood. She scored 9.700 on bars to help TWU close out the regular season with a win before preparing for the March 23 MIC Championships in Shreveport, La.
It was a long time coming for Johnson, who missed all of the 2012 season and the first nine meets of this season.
“It was really exciting to have her back,” TWU coach Lisa Bowerman said. “She’s not fully back in all four events, but she’ll contribute to our team score a lot.”
Johnson was named NCAA Division II Athlete of the Year in 2011 and became just the second TWU gymnast to receive USAG All-America recognition in all four events and all-around. But then a preseason injury sidelined her in 2012.
On Friday, however, in a dual meet at Southeast Missouri State, Johnson was allowed to perform exhibition routines on bars and balance beam. Her routines were scored by the meet’s judges but didn’t count toward the Pioneers’ team score. On Sunday, Johnson was inserted into the lineup.
“On Friday we felt like she proved enough to us to put her in there on Sunday,” Bowerman said. “It’s going to be very exciting going into conference and nationals.”
Bowerman said the two-week break before the MIC meet will allow her team to rest and recharge both mentally and physically.
The Pioneers own the highest team score in the MIC this season ... The top four teams in the MIC are separated by two-tenths of a point in regional scoring.