Players waited for the umpire to make the call as TWU coach Richie Bruister went to his knees near home plate and waved his arms emphatically, pleading for Bailey Vrazel to be called safe.
“I was just sitting there waiting anxiously, hoping for the best,” Vrazel said. “It was definitely nerve-racking trying to figure out what he was going to say, because it took a good 5-10 seconds to make the call.”
Abilene Christian coach Bobby Reeves screamed at the umpire after Vrazel was called safe, giving the 10th-ranked Pioneers a compelling 8-7 victory at Pioneer Field on Friday that extended TWU’s home winning streak to 12 games.
“I’d like to think I’m a fun coach for people to watch, and I like to get excited,” Bruister said. “I knew it was going to be a close play when the outfielder bobbled it and we’ve got the fastest kid in the country. I thought, ‘let’s go for the win right here.’ We made something happen and we were very fortunate. It was going to be a bang-bang play.”
The Pioneers (26-6, 4-0 Lone Star) weathered several storms by the Wildcats before Amanda Ruiz’s two-out single in the bottom of the seventh scored Haley Colwell and Vrazel, who both reached on full-count walks. Vrazel scored the winning run on a hook slide past catcher Lyndi Smith, who couldn’t keep Vrazel’s left hand from swiping the plate.
“The catcher was up on the baseline blocking the plate, so that was my only option,” Vrazel said of the hook slide. “I knew I was the winning run, and I was going to do whatever it took to get there. I knew it was going to be close. I saw the play in the outfield, so I knew they were coming up gunning. I knew that’s what it was going to take to get around her.”
Abilene Christian had just taken a 7-6 lead on a three-run homer by Courtney Flanary in the sixth inning, answering Katie Hines’ two-run shot in the fifth that gave the Pioneers a 5-4 lead.
TWU looked as if it was going to tie the game in the sixth with two runners on and no outs. However, Caitlyn Crain defused the heart of the Pioneers’ order by forcing Hines into a popup and striking out Jordan Readicker and Kendra Sancet.
“We battled back and forth and it was nerve-racking on us because we had so many highs and lows,” Bruister said. “We were down early and we couldn’t catch a break with the sun out there. Then we finally got it going and then we gave up a three-run home run when we were feeling good, and here we go again.”
After being stymied the previous inning by Crain, the Pioneers were down to their last out. But Ruiz jumped on the first pitch Crain threw and sent a sharp single into center field.
“She walked those two batters in a row, so she is going to want to throw a strike,” Ruiz said. “That’s what I was expecting and that’s what I got. It was different, because we haven’t been down like that, especially in the seventh inning. We haven’t lost a game on our home field yet, and we weren’t going to let it be tonight.”
The Wildcats (15-13, 1-3) jumped on Larisa Garcia early, using the wind and sun at their backs to their advantage. Flanary doubled to score leadoff hitter Keanna Winkfield. Sara Vaughn added a sacrifice fly to put Abilene Christian ahead 3-0.
Heather Peacock’s RBI single to left gave the Wildcats a 4-0 lead in the third inning.
Lizzy Kelly got TWU’s offense rolling with her second home run of the year, a solo shot that curled inside the left-field foul pole. They then worked the bases loaded, and Shelby Hall relieved ACU starter Peyton Mosley.
An RBI single by Ashley Maddox made it 4-2. Haley Colwell’s chopper back to Hall avoided her glove and skipped into center to make it 4-3.
After hitting a go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth inning Wednesday against Texas A&M International, Hines, who went 3-of-4 with two runs scored Friday, gave the Pioneers a 5-4 lead over ACU with a two-run homer in the fifth inning, this time scoring Kelly.
The Pioneers weren’t done as Sarah Wittenburg made it 6-4, beating a tag at home with a face-first slide when Smith scrambled to recover a wild pitch and threw to Hall at the plate.
“We made adjustments at the plate,” Bruister said. “Instead of getting down and struggling, they figured that pitcher out. Abilene has one of the best pitching staffs in the country with an ERA of 2.00, so going in you aren’t going to score many adjustments. They had to throw three pitchers at us, which is a great sign for our hitters doing their job. “
Brandie Lander relieved Garcia in the fourth inning, earning her 10th win as she gave the Pioneers time and breathing room for their comeback.
“She pitched with heart,” Bruister said. “It was a long-relief situation and we were down in the game, but she did her job keeping it close and giving our offense a chance to get back in the game. She could’ve been down on that three-run homer, but she came back and fought again to keep us in the game.”
TWU will finish the three-game series with Abilene Christian today with a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
TWU 8, ABILENE CHRISTIAN 7
WP — Brandie Lander (10-3). LP — Caitlyn Crain (7-6). 2B — A: Flanary, Smith. T: Maddox. HR — A: Flanary. T: Kelly, Hines.