MESA STATE RESPONDS AFTER LOSING GAME 1 TO SPLIT WITH UCCS
Kris Mort didn’t know who to pitch Monday in the final game of an RMAC softball series against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
She asked her senior catcher, Meagan Hennessy, and after some discussion, Hennessy said, “Cierra?”
“I said, ‘All right,’ ’’ Mort said. “So we went with Cierra on a short leash and she never needed the leash.”
Hardly. All former Grand Junction High School standout Cierra Lard did was strike out 12 UCCS hitters, including the top power hitter in the conference three times, to secure the series split, 6-3.
“I just kinda found myself,” Lard said. “The first couple of games were really bad and my mechanics and my mental (approach) were definitely not there. When I found my mechanics, my mental still wasn’t there. It just fit today.”
Lard, who attended Santa Barbara City College last year but pitched only six innings because of a stress fracture in her back, has battled through a delivery change that finally started to take hold in the past week.
Although she still was a little wild Monday, she got a bases-loaded strikeout in the third inning and left runners at the corners with a strikeout in the sixth.
“I just felt comfortable for the first time in over a year,” she said. “Meagan was making some great calls for me and the defense backed me up. They did a great job in the field and we got our bats going. On the one hand, yeah, I had 12 strikeouts, but I had a couple dozen walks, too. They saved me.”
She walked five, none of which scored.
In the sixth inning, with runners at first and third, Mort went to the mound with the intention of walking Jessika Anastos, who has 13 home runs this season, including one in Monday’s opener, a 9-7 UCCS victory.
“They were talking about walking her and I said, ‘You know, Coach, I don’t feel comfortable with that. I’d rather just strike her out.’ It was something mental. I decided I can’t walk any more people,” Lard said.
Mort, who was kicking herself for making a pitching change in the opener that backfired, went with her pitcher.
“If that’s in her mind, let’s go for it,” Mort said. “If we give up a home run, I’m kicking myself all the way to next Sunday, but sometimes you have to go with what they’re feeling, especially pitchers.”
Anastos was strikeout No. 10, ending the inning, and Lard fanned the first two batters of the seventh inning and got a pop fly to short for her first college victory.
The 12 strikeouts were the most for a Mesa State pitcher since Cassie Phillips fanned 12 in a 12-inning performance against UCCS in 2007. Stacy Dennis had 12 strikeouts in 2004 against Montana State-Billings.
After the game, the sophomore was clutching the game ball.
“I stole it,” Lard said. “I just decided this is mine.”
Gabi Parra and Lauren Cross hit back-to-back doubles and Hennessy doubled one batter later, then scored on Ashlee Duffy’s base hit for a 5-2 lead in the third inning. Cross singled and scored on another base hit by Duffy in the fifth.
In the first game, the Mavs missed a chance to win the series by allowing five runs in the seventh inning after coming back to break a 4-4 tie on Parra’s squeeze bunt in the fifth.
Jessica Rayman was working on a three-hitter and had a 5-4 lead when Mort went to Parra to close it out. UCCS sent 10 batters to the plate and scored five runs on three hits and an error.
“I have to own that first loss,” Mort said. “Ray didn’t want to come out. I just felt like if Gabi came in and really offset them today like she did (Sunday), throw them off for an inning ... all we had to do was get through three hitters.”
Mort liked the fight she saw in the Mavs to come back from the disappointing loss.
“They showed a lot of heart coming out with a split,” she said, “considering we had to fight back after losing the first game each day.”