By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University’s bats were smoking on Sunday, helping the Zias greatly improve their position in the battle for a Lone Star Conference tournament berth.
ENMU used consecutive big innings to outlast Abilene Christian 13-9 in the opener, then rode a five-hit pitching performance from freshman Kristen Cruickshank to a 10-2 win in the nightcap at Zia Softball Field.
The Zias (23-21, 8-8 LSC South) took three of four in the weekend series to move past the Wildcats (21-20, 7-13) into fourth place in the division.
The top four teams in both LSC divisions advance to the tournament May 3-5 in Irving, Texas.
In addition, ENMU could move up a notch or two with a strong finish at Texas Woman’s this weekend and at home April 27-28 against second-place (28-14, 11-5) Texas A&M-Kingsville.
The Zias survived 11 Abilene Christian homers in the first three games of the series, then dominated the finale after spotting the Wildcats 2-0 lead in the first.
“I told the girls early in the week we were going to have to prepare for a home-run derby,” ENMU interim coach Amber Daniel said. “That’s about what happened every game.
“I think the staff and the girls prepared really well for this series.”
Abilene Christian’s pitching staff, which entered the weekend with a 3.42 earned run average, was roughed up for 41 runs on 53 hits.
“We knew they could hit the ball,” Wildcats coach Chantiel Wilson said of the Zias. “Our pitchers just weren’t on this weekend.
“We just weren’t playing our sharpest, and it cost us.”
The Zias hit .457 in the series, with six players hitting .467 or better in at least 10 at-bats.
Junior first baseman Anna Hershkowitz raised her season’s average 127 points to .349 by going 9-for-10. Meantime, second baseman Rebecca Quinones went 8-for-12 with 10 RBIs while left fielder Alex Mayo Otis was 9-for-15 to boost her average to .445, fifth in the LSC.
“We came out hyped up and ready to play,” Mayo Otis said of Sunday’s tilts. “Our pitchers (Nicole Dickson and Cruickshank) did really good; (Abilene Christian is) a good hitting team.”
After a scoreless first inning in the opener, the teams erupted for 20 runs over the next two frames. ENMU scored seven in the second and six in the third for a 13-7 lead.
The Zias didn’t get another hit in that game, but Dickson (14-6) blanked the Wildcats from there until the seventh.
Cruickshank (7-10), who took the loss in Saturday’s series opener, breezed on Sunday after allowing a couple of early unearned runs. The game was called after 4 1/2 innings because of the eight-run rule.
“She came out more focused today,” Daniel said. “She did a great job, especially against a lineup line that.”
Mayo Otis’ fourth homer of the season, a two-run shot, gave ENMU a 5-2 lead in the third and she added an RBI double in a five-run fourth.