The Fort Lewis College softball team continued a steady stream of hits over the course of the weekend at the Cactus Classic in Tucson, Arizona, but the defense struggled to hold onto leads.
FLC went 1-4 in its final weekend of non-conference play. The Skyhawks lost 11-2 to Southern Nazarene University and 3-0 to the University of Texas-Permian Basin on Friday. Fort Lewis then split Saturday’s doubleheader, as it topped California University-Pennsylvania 8-4, but lost 4-1 to West Texas A&M University. On Sunday, the Skyhawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead against No. 2 Texas A&M Kingsville, but fell 12-4.
“Our bats woke up this weekend and we scored early and first in almost every game,” said Fort Lewis head coach Ashley Reeves. “Our pitching was a lot better this weekend, and I know at times it didn’t look like it, but we cut down on our walks significantly. Where we lacked was our defense. We were in all of our games, but we made one too many errors. That’s what happens when you play really good teams, and we have to work on that.”
On Sunday, Fort Lewis (3-7) jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, and scored first for the third consecutive game. FLC scored two in the first, as junior infielder McKenna Hefley ripped an RBI double to score her twin sister Kyle Hefley, and then junior Pilar Gutierrez drove her in with an RBI single. Hefley delivered again in the second when she doubled for the second time and drove in senior Cassie Sloan.
But the Javelinas (11-4) scored three in the third, and two costly errors by the Skyhawks opened the door. They scored four more runs in the fourth, and five in the fifth. Kingsville led the bottom of the fourth off as Katherine Flores reached on an error. Her pinch runner, Yvonne Castillo scored on a passed ball to make it 4-3. In the bottom of the fifth, Matisen Onofrei hit a three-run home run to end the game, after the inning was started by Jackie De Los Santos getting on base on an error.
“You have to cut those errors out, and that was a theme this weekend,” Reeves said. “If we limit our errors at the start of the inning, we’re right there in every game.”
On Saturday against California University-Pennsylvania, FLC also jumped out to an early lead, as Brianna Leavell hit her first-career home run, a three-run shot to make it 3-0. She went 2-for-3 at the plate and had four RBIs, while McKenna Hefley went 3-for-4, as the Skyhawks had 12 hits. Leavell also pitched well and earned her first win, allowing four runs on seven hits, and struck out five.
In the second game of the doubleheader, FLC also took an early lead, as Kylie Hefley hit a lead-off home run. That would be the only offense for the remainder of the afternoon, as the Buffs (7-4) held firm, and pitcher Kyra Lair pitched six scoreless innings. In the second, the Buffs capitalized on back-to-back Skyhawk errors, and Ruby Salzman hit a three-run home run to make it 3-1. The Buffs added one more run on a throwing error to make it 4-1.
Errors haunted the Skyhawks on Friday, as they were unable to hold onto a 2-1 lead against Southern Nazarene (6-5). In the third, the Storm scored four runs as a result of an error top open the inning. Back-to-back fielders choices and a two-run RBI single from Natalie Jones broke the game wide open. They scored the final 10 runs to win 11-2. In Game 2 against the Falcons (8-7), a failed pick-off attempt in the second inning by FLC led to two runs, and they added one more in the sixth to win 3-0. FLC redshirt junior Mandy Lorensen went 6.2 innings and struck out five and gave up just one earned run in the loss.
With Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play beginning next Saturday at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, Reeves said working on defense is a must for this week. The Skyhawks have practiced outside just once this season at Aspen Field.
“We’re hoping to get on the field this week, and bunt defense is hard to work on in the gym,” Reeves said. “I don’t want to make it a crutch or an excuse, but at some point, we’ve gotta be able to get on the dirt and practice our defense a little bit. Hopefully it will show up now that we’ve got a clean slate with conference, but at the same time, a ground ball is a ground ball and a throw to first should be made.”