Richelieu Valery | Staff Writer
FIU softball finished its regular season with a series shutout against the UTEP Miners this past weekend on May 7, 2023, at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex in El Paso, Texas.
The three-game shutout against UTEP propelled the Panthers (24-26) to their best regular season record since 2019.
Before the start of the first game in the series, second-year head coach Mike Larabee made the team’s road trip priorities clear.
“Two biggest things [are] gaining momentum heading into the Conference USA Tournament and doubling the win total from last year,” said Larabee.
The Panthers did just that in the first game, winning a hard-fought contest as they clawed back from a 5-3 deficit to beat UTEP in the final inning.
But the Panthers were unable to capitalize as freshman Makayla Navarro struck out, leaving the runners on base to end the first.
In the next inning, FIU exploded for three runs off a two-run RBI by junior Carmen Perez and a bunt from freshman Kaleena Downing, putting the team up 3-1.
FIU’s 3-1 lead would hold until UTEP put up four runs in the bottom of the sixth, including a two-run home run from graduate Caitlyn Brockway to give the Miners a 5-3 edge.
With one final inning to turn things around, the Panthers had another three-run inning in the seventh.
FIU’s hit leader sophomore Ashton Lansdell stepped up to bat and let off a double to left center, recording an RBI and cutting the deficit to 5-4.
Lewis followed up with an RBI herself, bringing in Lansdell to tie the game at 5-5.
Before a double play that ended the inning, FIU was able to capture one last run when Navarro singled through the right side, plating Lewis.
The defense held and the Panthers took the series opener by the skin of their teeth, 6-5.
Game 2 was a high-scoring affair that also ended in FIU’s favor.
The Panthers carried the momentum from the first game, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead behind home runs from Lansdell – her sixth of the season – and Whitney.
UTEP answered right back in the bottom of the first, putting up two runs when Brockway smashed in her second home run of the series.
In the bottom of the third, the Miners were able to tie the game, 3-3.
FIU then had a massive six-run fourth inning to lead 9-3, piggybacked off a Lewis double that cleared the bases.
The Miners went on their own blistering run to chop the deficit to 10-8 after a five-run inning but went scoreless as the Panthers take the second game.
In the series finale, UTEP claimed an early 5-3 advantage through the first four innings after a four-run third inning.
Despite the rocky start, Larabee saw the struggles as a sign of the team’s growth and ability to handle setbacks.
“Today was just a prime example. We ended up getting ahead and then they came back, we had a really rough third inning. But what was really neat about today is that we faced some adversity,” said Larabee.
“I use the analogy that we lost one of the wheels on the wagon and we weren’t in a good situation. But our team has matured. We can bleed a little bit but we can’t bleed to death.”
Lewis turned the tides for the Panthers with a crucial three-run home run in the fifth to give the team a 6-5 lead and the eventual win.
FIU softball now has its eyes on a first-round matchup in the C-USA Tournament against Western Kentucky on Wednesday, May 10, in Ruston, Louisiana.
“They’ve got a really good team, really good balance in their lineup,” said Larabee. “I told the team that I don’t care who we play because it doesn’t really matter. We beat Western Kentucky on Senior Night and we just have to worry about ourselves.”
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