By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
After playing their first 22 games away from home, including trips as far west as Phoenix and as far east as Irving, Texas, Christina Helland isn’t sure it would have made much difference who the Eastern New Mexico University softball team faced Friday in its home opener.
The Zias pounded four home runs — including one from Helland in each game — and got complete-game shutouts from seniors Amanda Nightingale and Rosemary Moreno in a 17-0, 4-0 sweep of College of the Southwest at Zia Softball Complex.
The teams play another doubleheader at noon today.
“We were just so excited to be at home,” said Helland, a sophomore from Rio Rancho who drove in five runs in the twin bill. “We were all ready to go.”
Helland, who walked twice and hit a two-run homer in the first-game rout, broke a scoreless tie in the third inning of the nightcap with a one-out lazer over the left-center field fence. She then doubled home two runs in a three-run fourth.
The 5-foot-3 Helland, who said she had never hit two home runs in a doubleheader before, believes the Zias are gaining momentum as they get ready for the start of Lone Star Conference South Division play.
“This year we’re going to have such a good season; I just know that,” she said. “The team looks great. I think we’re all ready for conference to start.”
Although he’s glad it’s over, ENMU coach Armando Quiroz said the early travels helped toughen his team.
“It was good for us,” he said. “I think we bonded as a team and came together.
“I think the month of February will make us a better team in April.”
The Zias (14-10) took a 5-0 lead in the first inning of the opener on a two-run double by Jessica Nocas and a three-run homer by Tina Whitt, who drove in five runs in a contest shortened to 4 1/2 innings by the eight-run rule.
They added eight runs in the second, highlighted by Whitt’s two-run double. Kristina Goodman tripled home two runs in the third and Helland added a two-run homer in the fourth.
Nightingale (3-2) walked four in the first two innings before settling in for her second consecutive shutout. She struck out 10 and allowed only one hit — a one-out single to left in the third by Carolyn Garcia.
Moreno (6-5) scattered six singles in the nightcap, but no more than one in any inning. She walked one and struck out two.
Helland went 3-for-3 in the second game while catcher Courtney McClasky was 2-for-2, including an RBI double in the fourth. Freshman third baseman Brianna Darnell, playing with a mask to protect a broken nose, had three hits in the opener and finished the day 4-for-6.
Except for the fourth, freshman Cristan Hogan pitched well for the Mustangs (4-10) in the second game.
“That freshman pitcher is for real,” second-year CSW coach Ron Landschoot said of Hogan. “She was kind of a late find for me, but she’s really helped us.”
Landschoot, who coached ENMU to a 24-28 record in 2002, noted that his young squad has just two juniors and no seniors.
“We made some ‘youthful’ mistakes,” he said. “We’ve got to get over that.”