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Patient, powerful AWC wins 3
Good things come to those who wait and the Matadors waited for their pitches, drawing 16 walks in their three wins Friday in Day 2 of the Great Western Shootout.
Power was also present for the Matadors in all three games as they beat Southern Nevada 5-4, Western Nevada 9-0 and Southern Idaho 6-5.
Center fielder Courtnie Ploesch hit a grand slam against the Golden Eagles in the final game.
“I just saw that we were down and with bases loaded, two outs, I knew any hit was possible for me. So when I hit the grand slam, that was good. It really helped out my team and pitcher.”
Ploesch's blast put the Matadors up 5-2 after starting pitcher Jessica Leitner had given up a two-run shot to Lea Hopson in the first.
“I just knew it was a mistake, I knew it wasn't supposed to happen and it wasn't going to happen again,” said Leitner, who threw seven innings and gave up four earned runs.
“I just hung it a little too close to that corner on the outside and she just got a hang of it. It was a great hit, I just knew I needed to keep it off the corner a little more.”
When Leitner saw Ploesch's four-run dinger clear the left-field wall, a little sigh of relief came from the Matador dugout.
“Especially when my team comes back like that and has my back, that helps a lot,” Leitner said. “It made me feel more comfortable.”
Leitner retired the next three batters and threw scoreless frames in four out of the last six innings.
With a 6-4 lead going into the seventh, Leitner and catcher Savanna Baggett saw that Hopson was coming up third and planned accordingly. At that point, Hopson was 2 for 3 with a home run.
To Leitner's surprise, with two on and none out, Hopson laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving the runners up but extinguishing the major threat of the inning.
Leitner traded an out for a run with a sac fly to make it 6-5, and second basemen Abrianna Palacio snared a line drive on a dive to end the game.
“We're playing real hard right now,” said AWC head coach Nikki Bethurum. “We're going to have stuff to work on in the coming weeks to clean things up a little bit so maybe the scores aren't as close, but we're working hard. Especially if we get runners on base, we're working extra hard to keep them from scoring, so that's really helping us right now.”
The Matadors started the day off with a 5-4 win over Southern Nevada. Hayley Miller threw seven innings giving up four runs, one earned on seven hits. Miller's complete game was the first of the three the AWC pitching staff would put together Friday.
Game 2 was AWC's only comfortable win on the day, blowing out Western Nevada 9-0 in less than 90 minutes. After scoring three runs in the second, the Matadors scored six in the fifth inning, three of those runs coming off a Summer Ehrig home run.
“We have been patient,” Ehrig said. “When you're up to bat, it's good to be patient or else you're swinging at bad pitches and we've learned that the hard way. We came off a good day yesterday and we just carried it over to today.”
Starting pitcher Briana VanSickle cruised to a five-inning complete game shutout, giving up only four hits while striking out four and walking three.
“Coming from high school, I've never had a team with offensive backup,” VanSickle said. “It's so nice. Just slugger after slugger, it's so nice.”
The Matadors are 6-0 in the Great Western Shootout, and Bethurum is glad her young pitchers are gaining critical experience early.
“Until this last weekend, they've never played collegiate ball. There's definitely a big difference in the strength of the hitters and that's what they have to get used to.”
AWC continues the tournament facing Salt Lake at 10 a.m. today at Joe Henry Park, followed by Southern Idaho at noon.