By Will Comton
The Nevada softball team had a six-game homestand this past week and finished with a near sweep, 5-1. Nevada opened up the Mountain West series playing the New Mexico Lobos. In the bottom of the third, senior Megan Sweet went 1-for-2 with a crucial three-run home run that gave Nevada a 4-0 lead over the Lobos. At the top of the fifth, junior Melissa Arriaga was hit by the pitch with bases loaded and forced to take her base, which gave Nevada a 5-0 lead. The Lobos would get their only score off a run in the top of the seventh. Freshman Brooke Bolinger came out and put the Lobos to rest, ending the first game 5-1 in favor of the Pack. Bolinger was the highlight of the game, striking out seven Lobos in seven innings. Bolinger is now 12-3 on the season. Also, Sweet’s home run put her at 33 home runs in her career, which is only one home run away from tying the all-time home run record of Brittney Puzey at 34.
Nevada thrived in the second game of the series off the outstanding play from sophomore Jennifer Purcell, who went 2-for-3 with two home runs and four RBIs.
“I’m just settled in now,” Purcell said. “Going into my sophomore year I was settled, but I’m just more comfortable in the box now.”
Junior McKenna Isenberg shined in the first game as well, striking out four Lobos in a complete shutout. This is Isenberg’s second shutout of the season, a stat Isenberg is only trying to increase. When Isenberg sat New Mexico down in order again in the top of the fourth, senior Jasmine Jenkins led off the home half of the fourth inning with a left-side single hit. Purcell followed Jenkins and brought a two-run score to life, Nevada 2-0. Purcell wasn’t done, as she brought home another two-run score from a home run in the bottom of the sixth to seal the second game in the series in favor of Nevada.
The New Mexico Lobos avoided the sweep from Nevada in the final game of the series, winning 3-2 over the Pack. The Pack was tied all game with the Lobos until New Mexico’s Mariah Rimmer hit a solo home run in the top of the sixth, making the score 1-0. At the bottom of the sixth, a single hit up the middle from Arriaga brought Purcell home to tie up the game 1-1. A left-line drive from senior Amanda Weis gave the Pack the lead 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth.
New Mexico retaliated with a batter getting walked as well as back-to-back single hits to load the bases that led to two RBI singles off the center field. That gave New Mexico the win, the final score being 3-2. Bolinger struck out five Lobos in the game, and Arriaga had a game-tying RBI single, going 2-for-3 on the day. Sweet moved into third place on the all-time hit list, getting two hits against the Lobos, putting her at 224 for her career. With the three-game series finished, Nevada won 2-1. Bolinger and Isenberg pitched outstandingly, combining to allow only three earned runs in all three games.
For the first time since 2006, when Nevada clinched its first ever NCAA regional appearance, the Pack was forced to pull together for a triple-header match on Friday against Niagara. Forced by weather conditions, the Pack swept Niagara in the triple header.
Nevada played three different pitchers against Niagara: Isenberg, Bolinger and sophomore Chase Redington.
“We have talent pitching, and we felt like they were going to match up and give us a shot to be able to compete against that roster,” said head coach Matt Meuchel. “I thought they did a great job today.”
In the first inning of game one, freshman Kwynn Warner, Sweet and Jenkins all loaded the bases. Purcell stepped up the plate and hit a line-drive floater off the pitcher, giving Nevada a 1-0 lead. Niagara retaliated, getting a two-run RBI to take the lead in the top of the second. The Pack responded in the bottom of the third, with a RBI triple from sophomore Aaliyah Gibson, scoring junior Raquel Martinez from second base. Sweet plated all the way from second off a throwing error that gave Nevada the lead 3-2. In the bottom of the seventh, after a solo home run from Niagara, Gibson hit a dime to right field that sent Martinez home for the walk-off victory for Nevada, score 4-3.
Game two of the series was quick and easy for the Pack, as the team jumped ahead early with a three-run home run off Purcell’s consistent outstanding hitting. With Nevada up 3-0, Isenberg found her momentum. Retiring six straight Purple Eagles through the second and third innings, Niagara didn’t hit again until the top of the fourth. Nevada gave up three runs in the seventh, but went on to win the game 4-3 off a leadoff home run from Gibson.
Fatigue did not stop the Pack, as the team came out onto the field to face Niagara one last time.
“It was a tough day,” Meuchel said. “Having to play three games against a Division I opponent certainly takes a lot. There was a lot that we left out there.”
Bolinger came out and retired seven batters in a row through the three frames, and struck out two more in the fourth in the final game of the series. Warner sent a 3-2 pitch to the left center that sent Arriaga home and gave the Pack its first lead of the game, score 1-0. Bolinger carried her own at the end of the game, pitching her way out of a bases-loaded scenario in the sixth and retired the side in the last inning to complete the sweep of Niagara.
“It’s good getting those three wins; I thought we pitched great and played solid defense all day long,” Meuchel said. “Three wins with some momentum going into UNLV, that will be big.”
Nevada now looks ahead to its next match, as the Pack plays a three-game series against its division rival, the UNLV Rebels.
“We just got to continue to pitch well and hit well,” Purcell answered when she was asked what she thinks is needed to sweep UNLV. “We have to have good defense, keep our energy up and everything like that.”
Nevada will start its three-game series against the Rebels at UNLV this Friday at 6 p.m.
Will Compton can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.