After the first game of a three-game series against West Texas A&M with the Lone Star Conference title on the line, TWU coach Richie Bruister said Friday’s tilt was starter Brandie Lander best performance of the season.
Lander fanned a career-high 11 batters, but it was the Lady Buffs who struck first blood, sending the Pioneers to their fourth extra-inning loss of the season with a 2-1, nine-inning decision at Pioneer Field.
“Brandie was outstanding and you hate to see her lose a ballgame like that,” Bruister said. “It was an All-American performance out of her to give us a chance to win the ballgame through nine innings.”
Lander (19-6) looked to be motoring along in the ninth, as she already had two outs, but the Lady Buffs capitalized on back-to-back errors by TWU shortstop Bailey Vrazel to push the winning run across the plate.
The Pioneers (41-12, 19-6 Lone Star) entered Friday with a 2-3 record in extra-inning games and had won their previous two, including Wednesday’s emotional contest against Tarleton State.
It looked as if Friday’s game would mirror Wednesday’s triumph when the Pioneers loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth with no outs and the top of the lineup due up.
However, the Pioneers went down in succession.
“You have to go back and look at who they were against,” Bruister said of this season’s extra-inning games. “They were against great teams. You’re going to win some and lose some, and every one of those games we had an opportunity to win. That’s what I like about our team. Just like tonight, the table was set for us; it just didn’t happen. They made the pitches at the right time.”
The first inning saw both Lander and West Texas starter Hannah Newcomb locate the strike zone early, as each delivered two strikeouts in a scoreless frame.
“It’s nerve-racking and everything depends on the first inning,” Lander said. “I just decided in the first to judge how they are hitting and throw as far off as I could so they would chase it. They did, with pop-ups and groundouts, and that helped throughout the whole game.”
Lander struck out two more in the second.
Mercedes Garcia’s patience earned her a walk to start the third, but Meghan Slattery lined into a 1-3 double play. Then, Alyssa Lemos hit her ninth home run of the season to break the scoreless tie.
The Pioneers answered the Lady Buffs’ run with one of their own. Haley Colwell singled, and Vrazel went to the well again with a bunt that she stretched into a double, putting runners on second and third with no outs. After Amanda Ruiz grounded out, Lizzy Kelly drove in the game-tying run with a groundout.
Lander got back to business in the fourth with a 1-2-3 shutdown with two strikeouts.
“I was talking to some of the teammates before the game and I just told them that I was going to think of [West Texas A&M] as any other team and I didn’t care who was hitting,” Lander said. “It was about throwing my game and keeping them from hitting it.”
The bottom of the fourth got hairy for Newcomb. She issued walks to Sarah Wittenburg and Ashley Maddox. Newcomb was injured on her ball-four pitch and had to be pulled in favor of Lauren Heinrich.
Heinrich came in cold and walked Hailey Colwell to load the bases for Vrazel, but she popped out to end the inning.
“There were a lot of nerves on both sides of it, and I think that’s why you saw a 2-1 game,” Bruister said. “The pitchers pitched outstanding, but the nerves got the best of us. We had opportunities to score. You’ve got to do the little things.”
West Texas A&M (41-8, 20-5) threatened again in the sixth with runners on first and second, but Lander rose to the occasion with her career-high-tying ninth strikeout, against cleanup hitter Jessica Sipe. Lander closed out the inning with a strikeout of Allie Cranfill.
The Pioneers will get their chance for their first conference title today, but they will need to sweep a 1 p.m. doubleheader.
“We’re letting pitches right down the pipe go in hitter’s counts and we are swinging at junk,” Bruister said.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873.
WEST TEXAS A&M 2, TWU 1
WP — Lauren Heinrich (11-1). LP — Brandie Lander (19-6). 2B — T: Bailey Vrazel. HR — WT: Alyssa Lemos.