Abke pitches for a sweep over MTSU, first CUSA series win

Apr. 6—HUNTSVILLE — Looking for a late push in the Conference USA standings, Sam Houston softball hosted Middle Tennessee State for a weekend series.

With a stand-alone Friday game followed by a Saturday doubleheader, the Bearkats walked away with a sweep behind freshman pitcher Amy Abke in the circle. Abke pitched 15 innings for Sam Houston as the Lady Raiders collected two runs against her.

MTSU scored five runs on Saturday after being shut out against the Bearkats on Friday.

"I'm thankful for the way that we played this weekend. We have had some things not falling in our lap and working out for us. This weekend, we had some of those things happen again and I think the resiliency we had 1-9 played with was the difference," Bearkat coach Garrett Valis said. "When things backfired we overcame it and found ways to get outs or big hits."

This time the run support was there for the Abke in the circle. The bats for the Bearkats came alive when they needed them.

Sam Houston tallied 15 runs over the weekend, which was the most they had since its series against Liberty on March 22-24. The Bearkats grabbed 14 runs in two games in that series.

But things came together. Sam Houston saw four home runs in the series with Julia Herzinger (2), Tricia Yarotsky and Elia Hebel clearing the wall to clear the bases and put up runs for the Bearkats.

While the long ball was the name of the game, it was more about the six doubles for Sam Houston that helped keep runners moving and needing to string together fewer hits to plate runs.

Hebel led the team, driving in five runs for the Bearkats and scoring four times on her own.

"We've had a run where we've hit the ball well and not scored. There were some games where we struggled a little bit," Valis said. "That comes every season. To be able to get some fire in the lineup was nice because it is hard when you are struggling to string hits together. You need the extra-base hits and we did that this weekend."

As the bats were strong, Abke was the main thing. The freshman started the Friday night game where she threw a complete game to help her team get the win. Abke faced 27 batters in the outing and relied on her defense for most of the outs.

Abke struck out two on Friday in her start and gave up just one free base.

Saturday, Valis didn't give her the start and had senior Mika Vento enter the circle and she had an up-and-down outing. MTSU took her for 10 hits and two runs in 5 2/3rds innings of play. Valis turned to Abigail Young for two outs.

Abke then closed the game and got the start for game three 30 minutes later.

"We thought she had that ability all along. She continues to work on stuff. She would tell you that she didn't have her best stuff Friday," Valis said. "She is a tough kid and wants to win. When she is in a pressure situation, she thrives. She has built a lot of confidence in her teammates and fellow pitchers."

With the sweep, the Bearkats move to 4-11 in CUSA but remain in the ninth spot on the standings, one game back of MTSU.

But now the schedule loosens up. Sam Houston has played the top-four teams at the top of the CUSA mark and grabbed one win against Liberty, who is the number-one seed. The Bearkats remaining series are against UTEP, FIU and Jax State.

Those three teams sit fifth, sixth and seventh in the standings so the Bearkats have an opportunity to make a late push towards making the CUSA Tournament.

"We've viewed it as we are just getting started even though we are in the second half of CUSA play. The team had a reset mentality and it showed this weekend. We are trying to win every inning and see if they can stack up to a victory. If they can have that mentality, I think we can fight to have a great end of the season," Valis said.

Sam Houston will return back to the diamond Tuesday against the University of Houston. The Kats will have the first pitch at 6 p.m. against the Cougars. The Bearkats return to CUSA over the weekend with a road trip to UTEP.