SOFTBALL: Tops win three over FIU

Wes Watt

Western’s softball team went into last weekend’s game against Florida International looking like a caterpillar climbing a tree.

But instead of a tree, the Hilltoppers have been trying to climb up the Sun Belt Conference standings.

After losing the opener 3-0, Western won the final three by scores of 1-0, 1-0 and 2-0. After sweeping New Mexico State last week, the Toppers slowly have climbed their way back from their 1-3 start in conference play to above .500.

But after last weekend, the pace got a little faster.

Western played well all weekend against FIU, taking three of four games with an iron wall defense that trapped balls in the infield and gunned down runners at home. That, coupled with unpredictable pitching, led to three shutouts of the Golden Panthers in the series.

“They scored all three of their runs in one inning and we shut them out 22-straight innings,” coach Leslie Phelan said. “And that was pitching, but fine defensive plays we had at the plate and diving catches. And that is very encouraging right now.”

Western went into the series only one game ahead of FIU for third place and left three games ahead and trying to catch Middle Tennessee State for second place.

“We are looking to do as well as we can in the conference,”

Phelan said. “Every game here matters, anything can happen, anybody can beat anybody and we have to have our parts of the game sharp.”

Sophomore pitcher Adrienne Lathrop has been as sharp as a samurai sword as of late.

Lathrop pitched two seven inning shutouts to improve to 13-7 on the year taking five wins in row.

“When she is in command of her pitches and we can mix it up, she is very good,” Phelan said. “She needs to be consistent doing that.”

The offensive performance of the Toppers fell from last week’s NMSU bashing. The Hilltoppers out-hit NMSU 41-19 in the series, but were only able to get a combined 15 hits against the Golden Panthers.

Phelan gave a lot of credit to FIU junior pitcher Amanda Nealer. Nealer shut out the Toppers in the opening game on Friday and took a perfect game into the fourth inning of the second game on Sunday.

“I think Amanda Nealer is the second best pitcher in our conference that we see,” Phelan said. “So it didn’t surprise me that she threw a good game.”

Senior catcher Riley Garcia saw her nine game hitting streak snapped. Garcia was shutdown in the first game on Saturday, but made several great tags at the plate to keep runners from scoring.

“I think we’re doing an excellent job right now. Especially with this weekend being pivotable,” she said.

Western will host Lipscomb at 4 p.m Wednesday.

Reach Wes Watt at [email protected]