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Patriots plate 1 run to top Lions in pitchers' duel

Feb. 9—BENTONVILLE, Ark. — There was softball going on all over Memorial Park in Bentonville as the Alvy Early Memorial Classic began Friday morning.

Missouri Southern went 2-1 on the day and moved its record to 7-1 overall. The day was highlighted by a 1-0 pitchers' duel that University of Texas at Tyler's Genesis Armendariz won over Missouri Southern's Lily Rand and Kara Amos.

The eighth-ranked Patriots (6-1) scratched across a run via the small ball strategy with a squeeze play that the Lions couldn't defend after a well-placed bunt got the lone run in the game across the plate.

"She (Armendariz) changed speeds really well. Her drop ball was moving," MSSU head coach Hallie Blackney said. "It came down to execution, and we knew it would. That was a championship-level ballgame right there. That's a (Women's College) World Series team from last year. To know that we can play with anyone in the nation, but it's going to come down to who's executing in that game, and they executed and we didn't execute enough."

Armendariz — a grad transfer from Angelo State — held an MSSU offense scoreless that had tallied 49 runs in its first five games of the year.

"We have a ton of respect for them and their success," UT-Tyler's head coach Mike Reed said of MSSU. "I thought Genesis did a really good job of mixing the ball and keeping it down in the zone."

Blackney added that Armendariz was "legit" featuring three speeds, a drop ball and a good changeup.

Rand — a freshman from Waukee, Iowa — did not surrender a single run through 4 1/3 innings of work. With one out in the top of the fifth, Rand gave up a single to Madison Okano. Okano's hit forced Blackney to go to Amos.

Amos came in and slammed the door. Her appearance started with a long at-bat against Tara Stewart. The at-bat lasted upward of 10 or more pitches and ended in a strikeout for the second out of the inning. Amos then got JT Smith to hit a routine fly to center field for the last out.

The Lions went three-up, three-down in the home half of the fifth and had a ball snared at shortstop that Amos smashed right at the defender.

"We made a couple good plays at shortstop when they squared a couple balls up," Reed said.

The top of the sixth began with Amos hitting UTT's leadoff hitter, Sam Schott, and the next batter, Michelle Arias, laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Schott into scoring position.

A single up the middle by Courtney Plocheck put runners on first and third for the Patriots.

That's when coach Reed called the squeeze play. His catcher, Taryn Barney, laid down a short bunt that made it just beyond the white-marked lines of the left-handed batter's box.

"Both teams had to get creative, and they took advantage of a miscue. They got that leadoff runner on and then come around on a squeeze play, and it was a perfectly executed squeeze play," Blackney said.

MSSU's Kate Thurman jumped out to get the ball and tried to spin around and tag Schott as she slid into home but wasn't in time.

Schott's run was all UTT needed as Armendariz set the Lions down in order in the sixth and worked around a single and a walk in the seventh to finish the complete-game shutout.

Taylor Nuckolls led off the bottom of the seventh with a high chopping ground ball that bounced over the pitcher's head and into centerfield for a single. Emily Perry sacrificed Nuckolls into scoring position with a bunt. Katie Gray grounded out to Armendariz and moved Nuckolls up one more base to third.

It appeared that coach Reed wanted nothing to do with Amos after seeing her line drive shot to shortstop last time up and walked her on four pitches. The decision to walk her worked out as Abby DeSanto rolled a ground ball to shortstop that ended the game.

MSSU only picked up two hits on the day while UTT collected six.

With UTT being ranked eighth in the preseason polls released by National Fastpitch Coaches Association and MSSU receiving votes, this was a matchup that could go a long way to helping both teams once the national tournament rolls around.

"We talk a lot about strength of schedule and to have the best RPI (rating percentage index) we can. We came up here to play teams with the tradition and success like Missouri Southern. That's why we're at this tournament to play people like that," Reed said.

Armendariz will be a key to UTT's return to the Division II Women's College World Series if it can get back there. It only returned 46 innings pitched (less than seven full games) from last year's staff and Armendariz will be the ace this year. Coach Reed looks for big things from his grad transfer in 2024.

Game 2 — MSSU 8, Truman 2

The Lions bounced back in the second game of the day as they squared off with the Bulldogs of Truman State and earned an 8-2 victory behind early offense, two home runs.

"Kylee (Jacks) stepping up and getting on base early and then able to use our short game and speed putting pressure on their defense and that helped us score some runs in that first inning," Blackney said. "We had to bounce back. That's not always easy to do when it's an intense loss like that. For us to bounce back and get the W in Game 2 was nice."

Freshman Kiki Pickens got the start in this game and after surrendering an early run in the first inning, went on to slam the door and hold Truman to just one run through seven innings of work.

She got a boost from the offense as MSSU scored four runs in the home half of the first and did so with some bunts and errors by the Bulldogs' defense.

Later, Southern got another run on a single by Perry that scored Kylee Jacks from second base. That made it 5-1 in the second inning.

MSSU got another on a solo home run in the third inning from DeSanto. The junior third baseman struck a ball into the left-center field gap that cleared the fence with ease.

The Lions got their last runs from a 2-run homer in the fourth. This time, it was Katie Gray who hit the ball over the centerfield fence to make it 8-1, scoring Adrianna Young.

"For our power kids to come around, too, was a nice glimpse. Because our philosophy is bunts and bombs, and I think that game showed that," Blackney said.

Truman (1-1) added a second run with a double in the seventh inning. The Bulldogs split their games Friday with a 6-3 win over Central Missouri before playing MSSU.

After a lengthy delay due to hail, the Lions claimed a 7-3 victory over Missouri S&T (2-3) in the finale.