Following TWU’s 8-0 victory over Midwestern State in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday at Pioneer Field, Brandie Lander walked off the field knowing she’d pitched a gem, but she didn’t know just how stifling she’d been.
Lander allowed a leadoff walk and the next batter to reach on a fielder’s choice in the first inning, but she starved the Mustangs for the rest of the game en route to her first no-hitter at TWU. The Pioneers won via the run rule in five innings before dropping the nightcap 6-1.
Lander (18-3) downplayed her performance.
“I didn’t even know until after the game,” Lander said. “They had to tell me. I didn’t even know. Honestly, I think it’s another win and another game. I’m not going to take it as more than that. I don’t think this counts like when it counts in the big tournament, when it matters.”
After advancing to the NCAA Division II national tournament last season on a run of consistent softball, Lander and the Pioneers know that they don’t have to take the same road to be playing their best softball late in the season.
“I think we definitely did have a little rough patch in there, but I think it’s good that we got it out when we did,” Lander said. “Going in, we’re going to play those teams that beat us again, and the way that it’s worked out, we’ll be more ready. It’s always good to get that experience of losing.”
Lander’s no-hitter, coupled with her strong performance in Friday’s doubleheader, helped give the Pioneers the series victory. TWU coach Genny Stidham said she could tell Lander was focused.
“I think that she was so into the game and making sure she wasn’t missing with pitches and that she was mixing it up, but I don’t think that she realized that there weren’t really that many runners on base,” Stidham said. “She was in the zone today and I think she was in the zone yesterday. When you get in the zone, you don’t really look at the scoreboard. You just stay in that zone.”
Like they did in Friday’s 8-0 and 6-4 victories, the Pioneers (27-13, 13-8 Lone Star) got on the board early with Katie Hines’ school-record 50th career home run — her ninth of the season — giving TWU a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
After Katy Stephens walked in the second inning, Amanda Ruiz sent an RBI double to center to put TWU ahead 3-0. The Pioneers broke the game open with five runs in the third.
“I thought that we might have a little lull [after Friday], but they didn’t,” Stidham said. “They just went out there and played really sharp ball. … We’re just putting it together, and when they make mistakes, we’re capitalizing. We’ve been coming up with the big hits. We struggled a bit in that last game, but for the most part, I’ve been really happy with the last four games.”
Kendra Sancet opened the third with her conference-leading 17th home run of the season. Sarah Wittenburg doubled home Hines, who walked, to give the Pioneers a 5-0 lead. Samantha Alegria’s RBI double down the first-base line put TWU up 6-0. Stephens got into the action with an RBI single to center, and Tealey Farquhar’s fielder’s choice secured an 8-0 lead.
The Pioneers lost the second game, but the series victory against a tough conference opponent could prove beneficial when the regional rankings are released in two weeks.
“I didn’t tell the girls that, but when you’re doing the strategy, you think if we could win one game, that gives us three of four over Midwestern so that we can get that spot that we need to stay at in the regional rankings,” Stidham said. “They’ve been tough and they’ve got a good win-loss record, so taking three of four from them is big.”
After four scoreless innings in the nightcap, the Mustangs (24-16, 12-8) broke through in the fifth with a three-run double by Kelley Schaefer off Hines, who started the game, and a three-run home run by Katelyn Vinson off Lander.
“Of course we wanted to win that fourth game, but playing somebody four times, it’s really hard for them to not know what you have. And whenever you’re rotating me and Katie pitching, there’s not much left you can throw at them,” Lander said. “You’re just hoping that they’re having an off day.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.