With a multitude of school and individual records falling throughout a 43-win season, TWU has been hard-pressed to one-up each of its monumental moments, including several grand slams and walk-off home runs.
On Saturday at Pioneer Field, with the Lone Star Conference championship on the line, TWU found a way to outdo itself.
The Pioneers evened their three-game series against West Texas A&M with a 5-1 victory in the opener of a doubleheader, but they trailed 2-1 after 5 1/2 innings in the nightcap.
Refusing to surrender on senior day, TWU leaned on Jordan Readicker, Wednesday’s walk-off hero against Tarleton State. On the first pitch of the bottom of the sixth, the senior blasted a game-tying home run to left field. Sarah Wittenburg walked and moved to second on Karissa Hartwig’s bunt.
Haley Colwell then delivered an RBI single to left to put TWU ahead for good, and the Pioneers won 3-2 to claim their first conference championship and the school’s second conference title in any sport.
When asked how his team keeps coming up with clutch hits, TWU coach Richie Bruister responded with a one-word answer.
“Heart,” Bruister said. “Coach [Dianne] Baker told me when I first came here to recruit kids with heart, and that’s what I’ve done. When you’ve got a team full of heart, there is no doubt. They aren’t going to lie down and they know that [heart] is going to keep beating as one.”
Larisa Garcia, who earned the win in Saturday’s opener, picked up her 14th victory in the nightcap, retiring the final five batters in succession, with two strikeouts.
“Jordan always comes through in the clutch, and that’s where she thrives — in those pressure situations,” Garcia said. “I saw her get that hit and I thought, ‘They did their job, now I have to go do my job.’ It was three great ballgames and really just a great team effort.”
TWU turned to its wins leader, Brandie Lander, to start the regular-season finale, after she doused the Lady Buffs with 11 strikeouts in Friday’s nine-inning loss.
West Texas A&M used a walk by Brittany Gehle and an RBI triple by Jessica Sipe to take a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
In the third, Renee Erwin’s shot to right crept over the fence for her team-leading 14th home run, giving the Lady Buffs a 2-0 lead.
The Pioneers dented the two-run deficit in the bottom of the third when Lizzy Kelly’s sacrifice fly scored Colwell, who led off with a walk.
Katie Hines singled and Readicker was hit by a pitch to load the bases. However, starter Lauren Heinrich was able to strike out Kendra Sancet to end the inning.
In her final regular-season start for TWU, Garcia took the circle in the opener and the Pioneers gave her some run support.
“Before the game, I told our girls, ‘Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want,’” Bruister said. “I’ve talked about their character all year long, but it was just absolutely amazing for them to come out here and play flawless softball.”
After Garcia utilized three strikeouts to breeze through the first three innings, TWU’s offense alleviated some its recent frustration with two runs.
Bailey Vrazel and Amanda Ruiz singled to set up Kelly for an RBI double that landed just inside the right field line to score Vrazel and give the Pioneers a 1-0 lead. Ruiz scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0.
The Lady Buffs scored a run in the fourth as a consequence of errors by Wittenburg and Sancet and Sipe’s RBI groundout.
That would be the only run of the game for the Lady Buffs, and TWU added three runs in the bottom of the fourth. Sancet doubled, Wittenburg’s bunt moved her to second and Ashley Maddox sent an RBI single through the right side of the infield.
Colwell doubled to left to give the Pioneers a 4-1 advantage, and Vrazel’s hard shot off the second baseman allowed Colwell to score.
Garcia allowed a single in each of the final three innings but didn’t allow any runs.
With a playoff run still ahead, the Pioneers celebrated seniors Garcia, Kelly, Readicker and Hartwig, who possibley have played their final game at Pioneer Field. TWU could host part of the double-elimination South Central Region tournament.
“Anytime you win this conference, that means you can play with any team in the country,” Bruister said. “WT is a outstanding team. They are going to make a good run in the postseason, but the sky is the limit for this team.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873.
TWU 5, WEST TEXAS A&M 1
West Texas A&M
WP — Larisa Garcia (13-1). LP — Hannah Newcomb (16-5). 2B — T: Lizzy Kelly, Kendra Sancet, Haley Colwell.
TWU 3, WEST TEXAS A&M 2
West Texas A&M
WP — Larisa Garcia (14-1). LP — Lauren Heinrich (11-2). 2B — W: Jessica Sipe. 3B — W: Sipe. HR — W: Renee Erwin. T: Jordan Readicker.