FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Stay in control and stay in the moment.
It worked for Julia Cabral in the circle. It worked for her Colorado State softball teammates in the batter’s box or in the field. The Rams could have had flashbacks to a few bad outings the weekend prior, but they didn’t in posting a 5-2 win Friday over New Mexico to open a three-game set at Ram Field.
Cabral picked up the first two outs of the game, then surrendered a solo home run to Andrea Howard, her 14th of the year to lead the Mountain West. Cabral would give up another solo shot in the third, but on each occasion, the offense had her back as the team improved to 12-19, 4-6 in conference play.
“I think the best part from my game was I just felt super comfortable,” said Cabral, who went the distance to pick up her third win of the year. “I knew my team was behind me the whole time, and everybody was super supportive.”
She only had one true 1-2-3 inning on the afternoon, that coming in the fifth. The Lobos (21-15, 1-6 MW) would finish with seven hits and drew a pair of walks, but Cabral always seemed settled, always appeared to have the right answer on what to throw and where to put it.
Though she can throw hard, it was her curveball and changeup she relied on to get big outs. And her outfield.
In the second, the Lobos had a runner on second with two outs when Leslie Romero laced a sinking liner to center field, but Ashley Michelena tracked it down and made a sliding grab to keep a run off the board. In the sixth, a one-out single to right was erased when Hailey Smith threw the ball back in behind the runner, with first baseman Danielle Serna tagging her out.
Michelena was all she was supposed to be in the game, collecting two hits and scoring two runs as the Rams’ leadoff hitter, but it was the catch she made which pleased her most.
“It definitely did today. I think it gives the team an extra little burst of energy, and we go off that,” Michelena said. “It gives us something else to fight for and gives us a little more juice. I think I had it lined up all the way. I was able to track it in. I was a little shifted over, but I was able to get there, and I knew if I had to lay out, I had Hailey backing me up.”
After Howard’s homer in the first, Colorado State responded with a pair of runs of their own, the rally starting with a Michelena single the opposite way. The hit was followed by thunder, as Ashley York drilled her league-leading sixth triple to tie the game, scoring when Smith followed with a sharp double.
York doubled in the third, scoring when Serna singled through the box to regain the lead for the Rams, who added to the total when the Lobos misplaced a pop up an inning later, allowing the Rams to score two.
To head coach Jen Fisher, the first-inning push was a major step forward toward erasing any lingering doubts. They struggled to score runs in getting swept the weekend before by Utah State – just one in three games – so the immediate response was a stress reliever.
“That was huge, because we had such a scoring drought last weekend,” Fisher said. “Just to get on the board in the first inning was big. Ashley came up clutch with the triple to score Mich from first. I think we needed that. Our approach was to try to be more confident. We didn’t look bad last weekend. We made every adjustment and worked hard, but really, the ball could not find a gap.”
Michelena felt it too, and the lift in the dugout was immediate. The Rams finished with nine hits, with she, York and Jalyn McGuffin each collecting two. They didn’t homer but produced three extra-base hits and stole a pair of bases.
It was a great compliment to what she was seeing from Cabral in the circle.
“I think it was her coming in hot. Some of those pitches, they were not expecting them,” Michelena said. “She was hitting her spots and the defense had her back.”
The only thing left was to close out her effort, which required a bit of work. She gave up a leadoff single but followed with a strikeout. She walked her second batter of the game, then induced a fielder’s choice to put runners at the corner. With Howard looking on deck, she picked up her fifth strikeout of the game – looking – to start the celebration.
In attendance were members of the faculty, as the players each invited their most influential person academically to say thanks. It was the perfect group for the team to show they can learn from past lessons.
To add an exclamation, even better.
“That felt really good,” Cabral said of the strikeout. “Especially when there are two people on base. Pitchers love that, to shut it out, especially with a strikeout.”
The series resumes Saturday with a 1 p.m. start and closes Sunday with first pitch at 12 p.m.
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