By Alexander Haynes
Finishing the regular season triumphantly on a 4-1 victory over the University of Texas Arlington Mavericks, the Texas State Bobcats are Sun Belt Regular Season Champions. After a season of the natural ebbs and flows that softball dictates, the Bobcats have observably persisted through the ebbs, improved each week, and have earned the number one seed for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament beginning on Wednesday, May 9. Ranked 23rd nationally, the process of the 2018 season has been more than memorable – a wash of explosive plays, dynamic players and Ricci Woodard coaching the team to see each pitch as an opportunity. Summarizing those moments into a particular sentence or term is a disservice to the nature of their game. However, the success of this past series against the Mavericks was a small sample size of the season arch.
Note: Tentatively, the Bobcats will play their first Sun Belt Tournament game on Thursday, May 10 at 10 a.m. central time. They will face the winner of game three (seed eight/five against seed four). Stay tuned to KTSW for official details once a full listing of teams has been announced.
Game One of a Double Header Saturday
The first game of the double header on Saturday was an odd turn of a pitching battle. Neither Randi Rupp for the Bobcats or JoJo Valencia and Randi Phillips for the Mavericks were pitching for strike outs. And if they were, it did not show as Rupp landed the only three strikeouts of the game. Instead, both procession of batters went up and down the lineup, meanderingly hitting ground outs and pop outs. The game was entirely awkward on one end, impressive on the other.
The first and only run of the game came in inning one. The Mavericks recorded a first-pitch hit, followed by a single and error. Rupp struck out her first batter with the bases loaded, however, was unable to land the strikeout on the next batter. Aileen Garcia took advantage of the rare bases-loaded situation to send a scoring sacrifice fly just floating over the in-field. Sandra Mendoza scored on the single play, dictating the remainder of the game.
Rupp threw 28 pitches in a trepidatious first inning; she would throw only 79 through the remaining seven innings, forcing the Mavericks to complacently hit what they could, only to watch contact end in put outs.
The Bobcats’ batting lineup had an opportunity in the first inning as well. Mari Cranek found a way to scramble to first base on a throwing error, then forced the issue by stealing second. Hailey MacKay hit a single as the tide was coming in on the Mavericks pitcher. However, after a double play off Ariel Ortiz and MacKay running into an out, the Bobcats came away empty handed.
The output overall was not ominous – Tara Oltmann walked, Christiana McDowell had a steal, and Ortiz came back with a strong single. Yet, the team did not finish on back to back outputs of succession. By the end of seven, they had pent-up frustration in a 0-1 loss.
Double Header Game Two
The questions of the first game – how the Mavericks could clean up inefficient fielding and how the Bobcats could take advantage of stringing together plays – were answered quickly in the second game of Saturday. The pent-up frustration from earlier derived seven runs as the Bobcats netted 10 hits, scoring seven, striking out only three times, and leaving only five batters on base. The opportunities they created for themselves were more expansive with results in the box score following.
However, first the Mavericks began with their own hitting against starter McKenna Fryar. After an opening strike out, Fryar walked the next batter, subsequently allowing a single to right field. Then, the haunting clout of errors began. An erroneous and hesitant throw gave way to the simple single turning into a scramble for home plate, in which the Mavericks scored their first run. Another batter single put the Mavericks up 2-0 before abbreviated fly outs ended the evening. While Fryar was pulled in the top of inning two, Meagan King threw 18 pitches on one out, thus Fryar returned to finish three innings of pitching.
The momentary lead for the Mavericks was quickly usurped in the bottom of the first. Brianna Sannem wasted no time in knocking a single to center field with Jaclyn Molennar following on a sacrifice bunt derisively turning into a single. Ortiz followed with a single to the same center-field location as Sannem, a telling sign for the Mavericks.
The Bobcats persisted to pour on the proverbial chaos. After Oltmann singled in the first run of the game, she stole second, allowing Bailee Carter to have the go ahead on a 1-1 count to bring in two more RBIs on a double.
The Bobcats continued dynamically creating plays each in their own way. McDowell had another two steals before stealing home on an error, followed by Sannem also stealing home to bring the score to a 5-2 lead in the fifth.
After the Mavericks tied the game at five, MacKay and Ortiz finished with fireworks, leaving any doubt how powerful the lineup is trailing their back to back homeruns. The Bobcats 7-5 win was won in a fashion that epitomized the resiliency of the team.
While the win the day before was a show on the base path, the Bobcats had left some doubt on the defensive side. With Rupp taking the mound for the last time in the regular season, the team had to ensure they finished playing with precise fundamentals. Sunday was as much about the process as it was winning.
While Rupp’s first inning was not abbreviated, she forced three outs on 16 pitches. Just as the day before, the batting lineup quickly supported. Unfortunately, the Mavericks were also aiming to play cleaner, as Sannem was caught stealing second. No matter, the athleticism could not be stopped for long as Molennar and Ortiz each followed suit on a steal. Ortiz would net the first RBI of the game, bringing in pinch runner Kennedy Cline.
Carter pushed the envelope further in inning two with a double, allowing Cranek to utilize a well-placed sacrifice fly to net another run. McDowell, who is now not only an athletic bunter but a hitter with placement and scary quickness, singled to reach third. Sannem knocked a scoring single to center field, a quaint home for the Bobcats singles throughout the series, putting them up 3-0 after two.
Carter finished the day on a sacrifice fly of her own, scoring Sierra Steimel, bringing the lead to a score of 4-1. That fundamental type of hitting has followed the Bobcats the entire tenure of their season and will be the type of hitting necessary to win in the Sun Belt tournament. Rupp finished the day not with power, but finesse. Despite only netting four strikeouts, she went seven innings, providing only four hits and a plethora of meandering, dribbling put outs.
Combine the team’s creative way to make plays and Rupp’s versatile pitching, the Bobcats are truly a deserving number one seed in the Sun Belt.
Featured image by Nicole Wolf.