TWU coach Richie Bruister was content with Thursday’s two wins over Eastern New Mexico, but his standards are high as the No. 8 Pioneers have their sights set on their third NCAA regional berth in four years.
“What I was disappointed in was our intensity on defense,” Bruister said. “After we scored runs, it was good. They came out [Friday] and played like they were supposed to play. We had some huge defensive plays. Haley Colwell made one in right-center and Amanda Ruiz made one of the greatest catches you’ll ever see. It was major-league.”
With renewed defensive focus and continued offensive prowess, the Pioneers beat the Zias 7-2 on Friday to sweep the three-game series at Pioneer Field.
Bruister likened his well-rounded, power-hitting club to an American League franchise.
“Everybody 1 through 9 can hit the ball extremely well,” Bruister said. “We can move runs around when we need to, but it’s nice to wait for your pitch and be selective. Research shows that if you hit hard line drives every time you’re going to hit .750, and that’s what we want to do.”
Ruiz not only made an acrobatic, leaping catch while crashing into the center field wall in the fourth inning, but she also went 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
That performance came after she led TWU with three RBIs in a 9-1 victory Thursday.
“She’s consistent,” Bruister said. “She was the JUCO player of the year for her region last year, and she’s continued that success here. She’s one of those players that’s doing consistently awesome, but they just get overshadowed by the big things that are going on, and people sometimes forget about the little people.”
The Pioneers got going in the first when Bailey Vrazel reached on an infield single, advanced to second on an illegal pitch and scored on Ruiz’s single up the middle.
Lizzy Kelly’s single to right scored Sarah Wittenburg in the second to make it 2-0, and Ruiz delivered her second RBI single when she beat the throw to first base.
“My swing has been completely off and I’ve been swinging at bad pitches,” Ruiz said. “I’ve been keeping my foot going forward and actually swinging at good pitches. I’m really confident with our offense. I probably wouldn’t have put those runs up if they didn’t get on base, so they are doing well getting on.”
After hitting in the No. 3 spot in the first two games of the series, Kelly was moved to ninth, where she boosted the bottom of the lineup with a 2-for-3 performance and an RBI.
“Being in the nine-hole now, it’s what’s best for the team,” Kelly said. “Last year I did great [at No. 9], so I’ll just keep working in whatever spot [Bruister] puts me in. He told me before the game, so I’m kind of used to it, but the mentality didn’t change much for me.”
Ashley Maddox was hit by a pitch and Kelly singled in the fourth, chasing starter Mary Jo Granger from the game in favor of Alberta Medina. Vrazel’s line drive was dropped by center fielder Tylor Romero to load the bases, and a patient Colwell walked to force in pinch runner Karissa Hartwig to put TWU ahead 4-0.
The Zias finally got to TWU starter Larisa Garcia (10-1) with two extra-base hits to start the fifth inning. Aurelia Sandoval led off with a double, and Kuuleiokealoaha VonSchriltz tripled to right to make it 4-1.
Brandie Lander relieved Garcia and ended the threat. She earned her third save while striking out six Zias in three innings.
“We got good pitching from Garcia, and she went as long as she could because she pitched [Thursday],” Bruister said. “As soon as she got tired, we brought Brandie in and she closed the door on them. It was a great one-two punch.”
In the bottom of the fifth, the Pioneers got back to their power game with a solo home run from Readicker, her 13th of the season, and a two-run shot from Maddox, her third, for a 7-1 cushion.
The Pioneers (33-7, 11-1 Lone Star) moved a game ahead of second-place West Texas A&M (27-3, 10-2), which split a doubleheader with Angelo State.
“We had to keep close with the top of the conference,” Bruister said. “[The Lady Buffs] are no slouches, and they are trying to do the same thing. Everybody is playing good ball. It’s a tough conference. The season is getting shorter now and we are in a good position.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873.
TWU 7, EASTERN NEW MEXICO 2
Eastern New Mexico
WP — Larisa Garcia (10-1). LP — Mary Jo Granger (4-5). 2B — E: Aurelia Sandoval. 3B — E: Kuuleiokealoaha VonSchriltz. HR — T: Jordan Readicker, Ashley Maddox.