By Dave Wagner
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University interim softball coach Ron Landschoot searched for words to put Saturday’s season-ending Lone Star Conference South Division doubleheader against Texas A&M-Kingsville into perspective.
“The ‘what-ifs’ weren’t in our favor today,” he said after the Zias suffered 8-7 and 3-2 setbacks to TAMK, giving the Javelinas (32-19, 7-13 South) three out of four in the series and relegating ENMU (24-29, 4-16) to last place in the division. The Zias won Friday’s second game 6-4 after dropping the opener 5-1.
Eastern’s seven seniors, including pitcher Katina Arocha, were all in the lineup in the second game. Arocha (3-7) pitched a complete-game five-hitter on just 80 pitches, and with a few breaks, could have had a shutout.
“I was just trying to come out strong this time, being my last game,” said Arocha, who walked two and struck out three. “I depend on my different pitches. I don’t try to strike out girls; I just try to get them to hit it on the ground.”
A misplayed flyball turned into an RBI double for Kingsville designated player Robyn Jensen in the second, and she later scored on an error. In the fourth, Jensen lifted an opposite-field home run to right that hit the top of the fence and bounced over.
Jensen earned her fifth save with two innings of hitless relief in place of starter Meghan King (15-11), who allowed just three hits and two unearned runs through five innings.
In the opener, Jensen held the Zias hitless through three, but was knocked out when ENMU pounded her for seven runs on eight hits in the fourth and fifth innings as the Zias built a 7-2 lead. Included were fifth-inning homers from freshmen Katie McDermott, her sixth of the season, and Nikki Gay, her school record-tying 11th.
“I really wasn’t (aware of the record, first set by Rachel Mohler in 2000); actually, I forgot about it,” admitted Gay, who also finished the season with a .425 average and a school-record 32 stolen bases. “I’m kind of surprised about it, but I’m proud of myself.”
Down to their final four outs against Lauren King (10-13), the Javs strung together three two-out singles for a run in the sixth.
Trailing 7-4 with two out and runners in the seventh, they got a two-run single from catcher Shawna Lawless and a wind-aided, two-run homer from Stacey Fleming that just got over the leaping Gay’s glove at the center field fence.
It was the fourth home run of the series for TAMK, which came in with just seven homers in its previous 47 games this season.
“I thought it was coming right to me, but it got caught up in the wind,” Gay said of Fleming’s game-winner. “I probably could have timed my jump better, but I didn’t realize how close to the fence I was.”
Texas A&M-Kingsville 5-4, ENMU 1-6 — Lauren King scattered 12 hits and pitched out of trouble over the final four innings as the Zias gained a split.
ENMU took a 3-0 lead in the first on consecutive RBI singles by Murray, Rhoten and Richardson and never relinquished the lead, but the Javelinas pulled to 6-4 on Kassie Rezza’s two-out, bases-loaded single in the sixth.
TAMK left 13 runners on base, including 10 over the final four innings. Rhoten led ENMU’s 12-hit attack with 3 for 3, while Richardson hit a pair of RBI singles and Gay and Murray each added a pair of hits.
In the opener, the Javs scored three in the top of the seventh to break open a close game. TAMK got solo homers from Fleming in the third and Wendy Wagstaff leading off the seventh.
Jensen pitched a two-hitter with seven strikeouts, retiring ENMU’s first 14 hitters before surrendering consecutive two-out doubles in the fifth to Tracy Jordan and McDermott.
Rhoten (9-9) pitched a complete-game for the Zias, allowing nine hits and striking out nine.