Playing a doubleheader against Texas A&M-Kingsville to open Lone Star Conference play Friday at Pioneer Field, TWU’s defense surrendered just two runs in 11 total innings.
Not to be outdone, the Pioneer offense stole the show while scoring in all but one inning on the way to a 9-2 win in the opener and an 11-0, five-inning victory in the nightcap. The Pioneers hit three home runs, including a grand slam by freshman Katy Stephens.
“I was definitely impressed with the pitching, but I would say the offense won out today,” TWU coach Genny Stidham said. “They were consistently hitting the ball. We made some mistakes early on when we were behind for that short period of time, but they came back and put the ball in play.”
Before the Pioneers (16-3, 2-0 Lone Star) exploded for five runs in the sixth inning, the first game was within reach for A&M-Kingsville, but Stidham was impressed with how her team secured timely hits.
“That’s what they’ve been doing all year,” Stidham said. “When it gets a little tough and tight, somebody pulls it out consistently. All throughout the lineup, somebody pulls something out.”
Senior Brandie Lander moved to 12-0 while recording 10 strikeouts — one shy of her career high — while allowing three hits and one walk.
After the Pioneers took a 1-0 lead in the first when an error allowed Bailey Vrazel to score, Lander allowed a two-run home run to Taylor McGill. Lander settled down, and TWU regained the lead two innings later.
“She knew that she hung that screwball and she knew she was having trouble with it, so we just laid off of it and went with the drop ball, curve ball and changeups,” Stidham said. “She couldn’t keep the rise ball in the zone and she was a little upset with that, but that’s just her. Nothing gets to her.”
Vrazel was the leading hitter in the opener with three hits, three runs, a walk and three steals.
“It’s what I do,” Vrazel said. “I don’t get on for nothing. I just get on and ask them to move me over and do whatever it takes. It was a full team effort that game. We had big hits when we needed them and executed when we needed to execute. Everybody did their job.”
TWU junior Sarah Wittenburg drove in two runs. Her RBI double to left-center tied the game at 2 in the third. Freshman Katy Stephens made it 4-2 in the fifth with a one-run double off the wall in left-center.
In the second game, the Pioneers didn’t wait as long to unleash their offensive firepower, scoring five runs in the first two innings.
Kendra Sancet sent her seventh home run of the season to center field in the first inning, scoring Vrazel to put TWU up 2-0.
“She had struck out twice [in the first game] and wasn’t looking so great up there, but they were still very worried and concerned about pitching to her,” Stidham said. “With Kendra, when people are in scoring position, she’s not a girl I would be pitching to. Even if she’s having a bad day, she’s not somebody I would be pitching too.”
After three more runs in the second inning, senior Katie Hines crushed the first pitch she saw in the third for a homer to right, making it 6-0. Samantha Alegria added an RBI single to give the Pioneers a 7-0 lead.
Then came the emphatic grand slam by Stephens in the fourth inning — her first home run.
“Oh my gosh, that felt great,” Stephens said. “I’ve hit the fence a couple times and that’s been frustrating, but it felt great. [The team] has been producing, and it felt really great to be able to contribute and to be able to do as well as they’re doing.”
Assistant coach Jerod Stidham had a feeling Stephens would leave the yard Friday.
“Jerod even told me today that she was going to hit a bomb,” Genny Stidham said. “She hit a couple at the fence, and in Las Vegas [at the Desert Stinger Tournament] she was robbed; the girl caught the ball over the fence. She was really due. I’ve been really impressed with her that she keeps at it.”
Hines (3-3) allowed just one hit and one walk with five strikeouts.
TWU will finish the series against the Javelinas (5-13, 0-2) at noon today.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.