In another balanced bouquet of pitching and hitting for TWU that saw senior pitcher Larisa Garcia hold St. Edward’s to just three hits, it was TWU’s demonstrative defense that fortified the Pioneers’ 4-1 victory in the first game of the NCAA South Central Super Regional at Pioneer Field on Friday night.
“It was a relaxed intensity and that allowed us to make those plays because the team is ready to make that play,” TWU head coach Richie Bruister said of his team’s defense. “They want the ball hit to them to and when you’re ready, you get an opportunity to make those great plays.”
Right out of the gates, the Pioneers’ stockade of Lone Star Conference, gold-glove winning defenders in Jordan Readicker and Lizzy Kelly put their stamp on the game.
After a quick groundout and strong throw by Readicker, Kelly made a swift diving play in left center field for the second out. Garcia got ahead in the count of the next two batters, but relinquished two walks to put herself into a hole. Garcia then forced the fifth hitter Faith Roberts to ground to her as she calmly threw to Kendra Sancet at first base to escape the danger and inning.
“I think definitely after that catch by Lizzy, you could tell that sent the momentum for the game,” Garcia said. “We were going to play some good ball and good defense and we did. Everybody was great on defense and that’s what we needed to do.”
St. Edward’s head coach Lindsay Gardner said if it weren’t for TWU’s stellar defense in the early portion of the game, it could of easily been a different story.
“The first inning, if our first two hits are hits instead of a diving catch and shoestring catch, maybe we’re on top first and we get the momentum,” Gardner said. “Their defense absolutely made some huge plays. We have to do a better job of finding the holes. We did that last weekend and that’s our goal for [today].”
Garcia, now 18-1 on the season, pitched a complete game, needing only one strikeout to hold the Hilltoppers to one run, but it was her positive emotions, as Bruister and the team refer to them, that allowed her to work around the three allowed walks.
“She’s a warrior and I like to describe her as a rock,” Bruister said. “You take a rock and throw it up against a wall and nothing happens to it. That’s what Larissa is out there. She’s steady and she doesn’t let stuff faze her. She’s attacking and going at the hitters. She has no fear out there.”
Just like she did in the final game of the regional tournament against St. Mary’s, Kelly and the Pioneers’ offense broke the scoreless tie in the third inning with her hard-hit ball off the third baseman to drive home Vrazel — who scored from second base after singling to lead off the inning. Then, with Kelly making it to second on the error, Katie Hines sent an RBI double over the left fielder’s head to put TWU ahead 2-0.
Following an up-and-down top of the fourth inning, TWU (50-12) added another deuce to the scoreboard in the bottom half as the nine-hole hitter Haley Colwell walloped an RBI triple off the left field wall to give the Pioneers the 3-0 lead. That forced Debrow (23-11) from the game in favor of Katelyn Klug. The leadoff hitter Vrazel then sent an RBI sacrifice fly to center field to make it 4-0.
The Hilltoppers (33-22) finally put a crease in Garcia’s splendid pitching performance with an RBI sacrifice fly in the sixth inning after Marissa Thome reached on an error by Vrazel, but she and the rest of the Pioneers were unwavering as Garcia’ ended the game with one last committed defensive play on a comebacker.
With the win, the Pioneers need one more game to advance to nationals and will have two cracks at it today at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. if necessary.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.
TWU 4, St. Edward’s 0
St. Edward’s 000 001 0 — 1 3 2
TWU 002 200 x — 4 10 1
WP — Larisa Garcia (18-1). LP — Sarah Debrow (23-11). 2B — Katie Hines. 3B — T: Haley Colwell.