UTSA softball team wins first Southland Conference Championship
(April 29, 2004)--On March 19, the UTSA softball team's record barely topped .500 at 15-14. The Roadrunners were fresh off two disappointing weeks, losing back-to-back Southland Conference series at Sam Houston State and Nicholls State only to load the bus for a long road trip to Ruston, La., and a non-conference doubleheader at Louisiana Tech.
The Roadrunners swept the Lady Techsters that Saturday afternoon, 7-0 and 5-1, and have been on an incredible roll ever since, playing themselves into an exciting conference race and a possible NCAA Regional bid.
"Before we left for Ruston, we had an 8 a.m. practice on a Friday during Spring Break," head coach Corrie Hill said. "We wanted to shake our inconsistent play and remind ourselves of the basics of the game. It was like getting your car tuned up. We fixed some little things that have greatly affected the overall play of the team."
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Over the last 19 contests including the two at La Tech, the Roadrunners have won 18 games by an average score of 8.1-2.4 and have staged a remarkable run to the program's first conference title.
Hitting has been key over those last 19 games as the Roadrunners are batting .361 as a team. UTSA tied the NCAA single-game home run record of eight twice in each game of a doubleheader sweep of Texas Southern on April 1. One week later, the Roadrunners set the new standard with 10 long balls against the same Texas Southern team in Houston.
In those 19 contests, UTSA has slugged an incredible 56 homers and has a comfortable lead on the rest of the nation with 93 in all. The next closest team is Louisiana-Lafayette with 67. Individually, senior Christy Brownlee leads the NCAA with 20 home runs, a UTSA and SLC single-season record, while sophomore Jessica Rogers is hot on her heels at 16.
Mares' work in the circle has not gone unnoticed either. She has won her last 14 decisions and boasts an ERA of 2.02 with 55 strikeouts during that span. Her 24 total victories this year marks the second best season in school history.
The conference race seemed like a race for second place entering the final weekend of March. UTSA was tied for third with a 7-5 mark. Everybody trailed nationally-ranked and preseason favorite Texas State's perfect 12-0 league record.
But, the Roadrunners reeled off 13 conference wins over the final 14 games, while Texas State fell back to earth over the same stretch, playing .500 ball in the league.
A key series at Roadrunner Field on April 17-18 may have been the turning point for the two I-35 rivals. UTSA pulled off a sweep of the Bobcats, the program's first since 1996, winning all three contests in dramatic fashion.
Sophomore Krystal Guevara's pinch-hit, three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning proved to be the difference in a 5-3 victory for the Roadrunners in game one. In the second game, junior Krystal Gibson launched a walk-off, two-run homer in a 9-7 win, while Guevara came through again in a pinch-hitting role in game three, lining a two-run double that plated the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the seventh in a 7-6 win.
"Since the first day of workouts in August, we had dreamed of playing Texas State on our field in front of our crowd in a series that made a difference," Hill said. "The team never believed they wouldn't win those games, all three of them. The intensity of those games was electric and the fans were great."
With the three-game sweep of Texas State, UTSA went from four games to one game back of first place with one weekend left in the conference regular season. The Roadrunners headed to Lake Charles, La., for a three-game series at McNeese State needing help from Texas-Arlington in its matchup with Texas State.
Mother Nature wreaked havoc on both series, forcing the Bobcats and the Mavericks to play just two games on Sunday. The Roadrunners and the Cowgirls were postponed all the way to Monday.
All eyes and ears -- the UTSA softball team gathered in a Sulphur, La., hotel room to listen to an Internet broadcast of the Texas State/Texas-Arlington series. The Mavericks came through with a pair of shutout victories, dropping the Bobcats to 19-7 in the league. All the Roadrunners (18-6) had to do was take care of business in a tripleheader with a gritty McNeese State team on Monday and the SLC crown would find a new home in San Antonio.
UTSA did take care of business on what turned out to be a sunny and windy afternoon in Lake Charles. Led by solid defense, strong pitching from freshman Ursula Mares -- she allowed just one run over 16 innings -- and clutch hitting from several players including the game-winning, RBI-double by sophomore Jenny Garcia in the top of the ninth in game two, UTSA won the first two games, 3-0 and 2-1, leaving the third game unnecessary.
The Roadrunners celebrated on the field after the final out was recorded, dumping a cooler of ice water on Coach Hill, who didn't seem to mind since she had just wrapped up her first conference title in six seasons at the helm.
"Winning conference drew a sigh of relief from the entire team," Hill said. "The climax of the season was the Texas State series and then UTA beating Texas State twice gave us a chance. Those things combined made the McNeese series a challenge of being up enough to play. The team was emotionally drained from having their dreams play out over a week and a rain delay. Still they had enough to finish the job."
The Roadrunners (33-15) now head into the SLC Postseason Tournament as the No. 1 seed and face No. 6-seed Nicholls State on Friday, April 30, at 11 a.m. at Bobcat Field in San Marcos. The tournament continues Saturday-Sunday with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
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