The Mountain Lions softball won their debut home opener, beating Nebraska-Kearney (UNK) in three of the four-game series.
After a difficult opening tournament last weekend, the Mountain Lions returned to win the first three games in a pair of doubleheaders. Seeking to pay back the team that handed them their first loss this season in Lubbock, Texas, redshirt senior Braelyne Crenshaw said a rough start motivated the team, “Coming off of the five losses was a boost for us — it got us into shape.”
The first game of the series started rocky for the Mountain Lions, who found themselves down by three runs before even making it to the plate. However, redshirt junior Morgan Hernandez-Belew closed the score gap with a double-RBI single up the middle of the field, leaving the score 3-2 at the bottom of the third inning.
Nebraska had a busy next few innings, scoring four runs off two home runs and a sacrifice fly, extending their lead to 7-2. Despite the surge, this would be Nebraska’s final run of the game.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Mountain Lions went to work. Shortstop and senior Solana Martinez nailed a three-run homerun, cutting Nebraska’s lead down to two.
In the seventh inning, with two outs and a runner on second, sophomore Paige White tied up the game with a two-run home run. The series’ first game would close after Martinez drew a walk with loaded bases. The final score was 8-7.
The first two innings of the second game started slowly, but UCCS soon dominated the third inning, scoring five runs off of four hits and two walks. White sent out her second home run of the day in the fourth inning, leading to an early 6-0 UCCS lead.
Nebraska scored their only run in the bottom of the fifth off a sacrifice fly ball, but sophomore Cassidy Hubner responded with an RBI single to bring in UCCS’ final run, ending the second game of the series 7-1. Crenshaw dominated the circle this game, earning her first win by holding Nebraska to five hits and only one run.
The second day of play started strong with a three-run shot by Nebraska, putting UCCS behind in the first inning. However, some wild Nebraska pitches and solid Mountain Lion batting tied the game 3-3 after the first inning.
Senior pitcher Lexi Rayburn started the game and held Nebraska scoreless over the next three innings while the offense added four more runs giving UCCS a 7-3 advantage. However, UNK staged a comeback in the fifth inning, bringing three runners across the plate to make it a one-run game heading into the top of the fifth.
However, the Mountain Lions sealed UNK’s fate when redshirt junior Morgan Hernandez-Belew knocked a three-run shot, followed by a two-run hit by redshirt senior Courtnie Heller to bring the lead to 12-6. UNK scored two more runs, but it was not enough to overcome the deficit. UCCS won 12-8.
The series’ final game was a tense battle, with UCCS trailing by a run for most of the game. Entering the last inning up 8-7, UNK loaded the bases and scored four runs off three hits, pushing their lead to 12-7. The lead proved insurmountable for the Mountain Lions, who exited the final inning with no new runs, losing the last game 12-7.
The series was a massive improvement for the team, who lost their first five games at the Lubbock Christian University Softball Classic. “Winning three is a big power move for us. Although we got that last loss, we kept fighting and did score a good chunk of runs,” Crenshaw said.
The softball team will travel to Las Vegas, New Mexico, to begin their conference play against New Mexico Highlands. The four-game series will consist of two double-headers on Feb. 18 and 19. Students can watch the game live on gomountainlions.com.
Junior outfielder #11 Mia Perez in the batter’s box against Nebraska- Kearney. Photo by Taylor Villalpando.