By Dave Wagner
Not being able to get outdoors before Wednesday’s games didn’t seem to hurt the Colorado State University-Pueblo softball team.
Beginning a four-day road trip, the Thunderwolves belted four homers — two by junior center fielder Lesley Belden — and got two complete-game pitching efforts from sophomore Amy Renaldi in a season-opening 5-2, 7-3 sweep of Eastern New Mexico University at chilly Zia Softball Field.
In addition to not getting outside due to the weather, CSU-Pueblo really didn’t have much choice but to throw Renaldi in both games. The Thunderwolves have one pitcher sidelined with a bulging disc while another did not make the trip south because of what coach Shane Showalter called “academic issues.”
“We were a little concerned how she’d hold up,” he said of Renaldi. “My kids came through with the bats today. We’ve been doing a lot of hitting because we’ve been indoors.
“Overall, I thought we looked pretty solid today and it was a good team effort.”
Renaldi was more effective than overpowering — she walked 10 batters in the doubleheader and struck out just one in each game. The right-hander figures to have her work cut out with Pueblo slated to play two games at Abilene Christian today before moving on to San Angelo for a two-day, three-team round-robin with host Angelo State and Oklahoma Panhandle State.
“You’ve got to hit to score,” said first-year ENMU coach Kevin Blaskowski, whose squad stranded 10 runners in the opener, including the bases loaded twice, and left seven more in the nightcap. “We had chances in both games, but we left a lot of runners in scoring position.”
Left fielder Dorthea Gooch’s one-out, fourth-inning homer — a ball that caromed over off the top of the center field fence — broke a scoreless tie in the opener. Belden then launched a laser over the barrier in center in the fifth.
A two-out error by ENMU first baseman Cindy Hess opened the door to a three-run sixth against losing pitcher Maegan Rhoten. Shortstop Amber Aragon capped the rally by flaring reliever Cindy McGee’s first pitch over second for a two-run single.
“That was a backbreaker,” Blaskowski said.
The Zias spoiled the shutout with a pair of seventh-inning runs before Renaldi got freshman Cassandra Gonzales on a popup to short to end it with two runners on.
Kyleigh Harris’ RBI single gave ENMU the lead in the second inning of Game 2, but Belden’s two-run double in the third put the Thunderwolves ahead for good. After Katie McDermott’s two-out, two-run double pulled the Zias to 4-3 in the fifth, CSU-Pueblo added three runs in the seventh against Lauren King on a one-out homer by Savannah Byers and a two-out, two-run shot to left by Belden.
“They’re a good-hitting ballclub; Shane does a good job,” said Blaskowski, whose team won’t play at home again until opening Lone Star Conference South Division play March 19-20 against Angelo State. “I thought we made some great defensive plays today, but we left some balls over the plate and they hit them hard.”