Approaching two final road series before the Lone Star Conference tournament, TWU is searching for more consistency on defense.
Against Tarleton State on Saturday at Pioneer Field, the Pioneers’ pitching and defense flustered the TexAnns to the tune of just one run on the way to 3-1 and 8-0 TWU victories.
“[These games] weren’t earthshakingly important, but I think we still have some things to work on to get better,” TWU coach Genny Stidham said. “I think the defense was pretty solid today for the most part, and that’s something we’ve been struggling with and keeping their heads in it mentally. These games are important to start to get back on a roll.”
In the opener, the Pioneers (30-14, 15-8 Lone Star) held a 2-1 advantage most of the game before adding an insurance run in the sixth.
With ace Brandie Lander in the circle on a windy senior day, the Pioneers fell behind in the top of the first when Katelyn Conlee sent a solo home run to right field.
“Depending on which way the wind is blowing, my curveball took a little bit more to get them outside than it normally does with that wind coming across,” Lander said. “They still did fairly well considering there was one that I missed and she hit it over. After that one, it ended up working out.”
Responding immediately, the Pioneers scored two runs in the bottom of the first to claim the 2-1 advantage. After Bailey Vrazel scored on a passed ball, Katie Hines’ bunt scored Tealey Farquhar, who had singled down the first-base line.
“We struggled a little bit,” Stidham said of her team’s offense. “[Tarleton State] helped us out in the first game, but if we’re winning ballgames by six or four runs, I’m going to be happy. I felt like after that first inning we were on ‘coast’ and left it up to the pitching. That’s what we do — we coast. I think I’m more upset with the fact that we struck out a little too much. We need to be putting the ball in play and making some things happen.”
Lander, who picked up her 20th win of the season while allowing just one run on six hits and striking out 10, held strong the rest of the game.
After Samantha Alegria’s sacrifice fly in the sixth made it 3-1, Lander allowed a leadoff walk and a single in the seventh but shut the door with two strikeouts to end the game.
“I think it’s good when it happens early in the game because I know we’re going to get those hits,” Lander said. “Although we didn’t hit as well as in the second game, we still had enough. We had a one-run lead, and in my mind that has to be enough. They might get on base. That’s fine, but it only counts if they score and my job is to keep them from doing that.”
The Pioneers turned to Hines in the nightcap, and she delivered in the circle and at the plate. Hines broke Jordan Readicker’s school record with her 51st career home run — a three-run shot in the second inning.
“It feels really great to hold that record here,” Hines said. “With Kendra coming up behind me, I probably won’t hold it for very long, but it’s nice to have for right now. I think we have set that trend. Last year and two years ago we all hit big home runs, and I think we will continue that tradition. We also have speed and other components to the game. Home runs don’t win ballgames.”
Hines earned her ninth win, allowing four hits while striking out six.
Stidham said she thinks the combination of Lander and Hines provides a formidable challenge for opposing teams in doubleheaders.
“If Brandie is throwing hard, throwing up and out a lot, and then Katie comes in, I think it’s really hard for [opposing teams] to make the adjustment,” Stidham said. “With Katie throwing down and in with that changeup, it’s hard to make that adjustment.”
Hines’ RBI bloop single to shallow center field put TWU on top 1-0. Alyssa Galaz followed with an RBI single to shallow right, and Sarah Wittenburg’s sacrifice fly gave the Pioneers a 3-0 lead after the first inning.
Hines’ homer in the second gave the Pioneers a 6-0 lead before Vrazel’s RBI double and Galaz’s RBI single ended the game via the run rule in the sixth.
The Pioneers will head to Stephenville to play a doubleheader against the TexAnns (19-25, 9-13) at 2 p.m. Thursday before finishing the regular season with a three-game series at Cameron a week later.
“It was great,” Hines said of Saturday’s wins, “especially as a senior playing my last time here to go out with those two wins and have that support from our fans — especially because we know we’re not going to have home-field advantage the rest of the season.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.