LUBBOCK â€” The Howard College Hawks have made their name with hitting this softball season, but it was pitching and defense that saved the day Thursday.
The Hawks escaped a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the first inning, then turned things over to the pitching combo of Sandra Serna and Selina Mitchell en route to a 4-3 victory over Midland College in a second-round Region V West tournament game at Lubbock Christian University.
That victory, combined with a 7-1 win over Frank Phillips earlier in the day, means Howard (38-18) will advance to face Odessa College in the winner's bracket semifinal game at 2:30 p.m. today. Midland (39-16) faces Western Texas in an elimination bracket game at noon today.
The Hawks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning on RBI singles from Alexis Beltran and Lara Dominguez, but Midland came back in its half of the inning to load the bases with none out against HC starting pitcher Sandra Serna.
Serna responded, however, by forcing Diana De La Paz to ground into a 1-2-3 double play, then coaxed a groundout from Hannah Raubolt to end the threat.
â€śGetting out of that inning with that double play set the tone for the game, I think,â€ť Howard Coach Kelly Raines said. â€śâ€ťIt let us know that we could do this, and it gave us a lot of confidence. And it was obviously big for us to put two runs up on the board in the first inning.â€ť
Shortstop Olive Naotala, who leads the Western Junior College Athletic Conference in home runs, contributed a two-run blast in the second to put Howard up 4-0, and Serna, with last-inning relief help from Mitchell, made that lead stand up.
For the game, Serna struck out two and walked five while surrendering all three Midland runs on six hits in 6.1 innings innings of work.
â€śSandra did a fantastic job,â€ť Raines said. â€śIn the seventh inning, she ran out of gas a little bit â€¦ but she was phenomenal for six innings. Then Selina came in and shut them down. I real really pleased to see that kind of performance from both of them.â€ť
In Thursday's first game, the Hawks broke open a tie game in the third inning to put away Frank Phillips behind a nine-hit attack and a complete-game victory by Mitchell.
With the score tied 1-1 in the third inning, the Hawks plated three runs to take control. With two outs in the frame, Beltran belted a single which scored Faith Koria and Naotala and later scored on a hit from Dominguez.
Howard increased its lead to 6-1 in the fourth inning, and Mitchell had no trouble making that lead stand up. For the game, she scattered two hits while striking out six and walking three.
Koria was 3-for-4 with three runs scored, while Beltran and Naotala combined for five RBI.
Raines cautioned that it was still anybody's tournament, but added that Thursday's results puts Howard firmly in the championship mix.
â€śAll year, I've felt that we were right there with Odessa and Midland,â€ť she said. â€śI think anybody can win this tournament, and we can definitely win it.â€ť
All Howard games at the tournament will be broadcast locally on radio station KBST (1490 AM).
Region V West Softball Tournament
at Lubbock Christian University
Game 1 â€” El Paso CC 5, Western Texas College 3.
Game 2 â€” Howard College 7, Frank Phillips College 1
Game 3 â€” Odessa College 3, El Paso CC 2.
Game 4 â€” Howard College 4, Midland College 3.
Game 5 â€” Frank Phillips vs. El Paso, 9:30 a.m.
Game 6 â€” Midland College vs. Western Texas, noon.
Game 7 â€” Howard College vs. Odessa College, 2:30 p.m.
Elimination bracket semifinal
Game 8 â€” Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 9 â€” Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 winner, 10 a.m.
Game 10 â€” Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 12:30 p.m.
Game 11 (if necessary) â€” Game 10 winner vs. Game 10 loser, 30 minutes after conclusion of Game 10.