Smith Pitches Mountain Lions into Playoff Contention
COLORADO SPRINGS - Becca Smith was NOT going to let this one get away.
The Adams State Grizzlies had runners on second and third in the seventh inning of Saturday's second game when Rebecca Lindquist ripped a shot right at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs pitcher. Smith reached low to try to stab the ball, but it went off the heel of her glove and rolled to a stop between her and third base for a single.
The hit drew Adams State to within one at 6-5 with runners on the corners. Coming to the plate was Jaycee Lovato, the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference leader in RBIs with 54. With the game and a doubleheader sweep on the line, UCCS coach Scott Peterson paid a visit. It didn't last long.
"We went out and talked to her that last inning and she basically told us what she was going to do," said Peterson. "She said, 'I'm getting this kid.'"
Smith was as good as her word, striking out the dangerous Lovato on four pitches and preserving the 6-5 victory. The Mountain Lions also won the first game 3-0, giving them 10 wins in their past 15 games.
Smith (11-9) got both wins, throwing a brilliant two-hit shutout in the opener before coming in to pitch 2.2 innings of relief in the nightcap. In her 9.2 innings pitched, the junior from Solon, Iowa, allowed six hits and two walks while striking out 12.
"Her record doesn't show it right now, but I think she's one of the best pitchers we've ever had around here - and we've had some great ones," said Peterson of Smith. She's very smart, she's very composed. It's not just how she pitches. Mentally, she is really tough."
UCCS improved to 17-18 in RMAC play (20-24 overall) and climbed into eighth place in the conference standings, a game ahead of Nebraska-Kearney and 1.5 games ahead of Chadron State. Eighth is an important place to be with just one weekend remaining in the regular season since that's also the number of teams that qualify for the postseason playoffs.
"Getting two games today was huge," said Peterson, whose team closes with a four-game series against first-place Colorado School of Mines. "It's still going to come down to these next four games. We're going to see a real good Mines team next weekend.
"It's playoff softball; it's going to come down to the last weekend."
To get into this position took resilience in the second game as UCCS and Adams State were like prizefighters exchanging jabs and probing for weaknesses. The Grizzlies struck first with an RBI single by Lovato in the first inning. UCCS answered in the home half of the frame with a solo homer by Lara Mathewson.
Katelyn Lovato's one-out triple in the third turned into a 2-1 Adams State lead on a Carly DeLorenzo RBI groundout. UCCS again answered immediately as Mathewson hammered a two run shot to put the Mountain Lions up 3-2.
D.J. Consanero opened the fifth inning with a solo homer. When the Grizzlies put runners on first and second with one out, Peterson called on Smith, his starter in the first game. Smith answered the call, ending the threat with back-to-back strikeouts.
Once again, UCCS fans had a very short wait for a rebuttal. Marissa Wallace hit a one-out single and stole second, after which Mathewson walked. Jessica Belsterling, who had been the UCCS starting pitcher, singled, scoring Wallace and sending Mathewson to third. Christina Blanton followed with a sacrifice fly to right to give the Mountain Lions a 5-3 lead.
Solo home runs by the game's first basemen, Adams State's Kristen Payne and UCCS' Caitlin Connelly, made it 6-5 and set up the dramatic seventh inning.
The opener was less theatric but no less delightful for UCCS fans and pitching purists. Smith allowed a hit and a walk in both the third and fourth innings but escaped undamaged each time. In each of the other five innings, Smith retired her Adams State opponents in order.
UCCS scored twice in the first inning thanks largely to some sloppy defense. Landry Davis walked and Wallace dropped a bunt single to open the inning. An ensuing fielding error scored Davis and put Mathewson on first and Wallace on third. Wallace scored on a Mathewson steal when the Grizzlies' second baseman dropped the throw from the catcher.
Aggressive baserunning in the sixth gave the Mountain Lions their third run. Erin Milburn walked and was replaced by pinch runner Sara Palizzi, who promptly stole second. Smith hit a line drive that third baseman Lindquist initially looked to have caught while diving, but it slipped out of her glove as she hit the ground. Peterson waved Palizzi home on the infield single and the Adams State defender bobbled the ball as she tried to pick it up to throw it home.
Since it was their final home game of the season, the Mountain Lions honored their lone senior, Amanda Hathaway, in a ceremony just before the second game.
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