SOFTBALL: YellowJackets sweep doubleheader from No. 12 UT-Tyler
By Alan Wiederhold
Sports Information Director
LONGVIEW – Finally!
The LeTourneau softball team ended six seasons of futility against UT-Tyler by sweeping a doubleheader from the nationally-ranked Patriots on Saturday, giving the YellowJackets their first-ever victories over their rivals to the west.
The Jackets (17-13, 8-10 ASC East) won the opener 2-1 in 10 innings to end a 22-game losing streak to the Patriots dating back to the formation of the UT-Tyler program in 2005. LeTourneau then won the second game by a score of 5-2.
"For us to go out and compete against a quality team like UT-Tyler – a program I have great respect for – is a testimony to how hard our girls work," LeTourneau head coach Mike VanBrocklin said following the game.
The Patriots (25-9), ranked No. 12 among the nation's NCAA Division III programs by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, fell to 11-7 in American Southwest Conference play.
The timing for their first-ever victories over the Patriots couldn't have been better for the YellowJackets, who honored four-year seniors Kelsie Mercer-Stephenson and Jerrica Cepak between games. The wins came before one of LeTourneau's largest crowds of the season.
"These wins are a reward for the hard work of Kelsie and Jerrica, who have been here for four years and to our underclassmen," VanBrocklin said. "To finally get over the hump is a testimony to how hard they played."
The celebration began as the Jackets ended game one after nine and a half innings solid defensive softball. LeTourneau needed only one batter in the inning to finish the game as sophomore Ashley McPhail knocked an RBI single down the left field line to score Cepak, who began the frame on second base with the international tiebreaker rule in effect.
Freshman pitcher Taylor Thibodeaux (6-2) pitched all 10 innings and scattered six hits while striking out six batters in the game.
Thibodeaux ran into trouble early but only got stronger after she got out of bases-loaded jams in the first two innings with only one run against her. She then retired 11 straight batters during one stretch through the middle innings and did not allow a base hit over her last three innings of work.
The Jackets helped out their pitcher with solid defensive play. With the bases loaded and one out in a 1-1 game in the top of the seventh, UT-Tyler's Whitney Wyly knocked a line drive deep to right field. Right fielder Juliana Tuel made the catch and then relayed a perfect throw to catcher Kali Behrens, who tagged out pinch runner Ryann Bogenschutz at home plate to end the inning.
LeTourneau took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Longview alumna Christin Mickelboro knocked an RBI double to right centerfield to score Tuel.
UT-Tyler's Stacy Shepherd (8-3) took the loss in game one despite not being charged for a single earned run.
In game two, eight of LeTourneau's nine hitters in the starting lineup knocked base hits as the YellowJackets scored twice in the first and third innings in a 5-2 win.
After going 0-for-5 in Saturday's opener, freshman third baseman Anna Winter came through in the clutch in game two, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and four RBIs.
Behrens knocked two hits and scored two runs for the Jackets in game two, while Mickelboro added a hit and two runs scored.
Mercer-Stephenson (10-9) picked up the complete-game victory for the Jackets in the second game, striking out four batters and scattering six hits while giving up only one earned run.
The Jackets chased UT-Tyler pitcher Katelyn Thomason (10-6) from the game after 2 1/3 innings. She was charged for four runs, two of them earned.
With a 5-1 lead in the top of the seventh inning, the Patriots attempted to piece together a rally and pushed one run across before Mercer-Stephenson induced cleanup hitter Brittney Batten to ground out to the pitcher's circle with two runners on base to end game.
"It was a good day for everybody," VanBrocklin said of the LeTourneau softball family. "Kelsie and Jerrica's parents were able to be there; Kelsie's dad hadn't seen her pitch in three years. It was just a well played series by two great ball clubs."
Wins Nos. 16 and 17 also broke LeTourneau's team record for victories in a season.
The YellowJackets will take a break from conference action when they travel to Irving on Wednesday to face the University of Dallas in a doubleheader. LeTourneau will then conclude its conference schedule with six consecutive road games before ending the regular season April 26 at home against Dallas.
First pitch Wednesday in Irving is scheduled for 5 p.m.