Hoffman's Double Leads UCCS to Tournament-Opening Win in Softball

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – Nikki Hoffman’s double down the left field line with two outs in the top of eighth drove in the deciding run as the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (26-17) won its opening game of the RMAC tournament 4-3 in extra innings against Chadron State (27-22) at the Colorado Mesa Softball Stadium. The Mountain Lions have won their opening game of the conference tournament for the second straight season.

UCCS will face Colorado State-Pueblo at 8:30 a.m., on Friday. The ThunderWolves defeated Regis 11-6, helped by a six-run inning in the fourth.

The Mountain Lions scored two runs in the opening inning with Emily Jennings’ 11th home run of the season. After the first two batters were retired by the Chadron State defense, Jessica Belsterling extended her on-base streak with a walk on a 3-2 count to bring Jennings to the plate. She homered down the left field line and provide a 2-0 UCCS lead after the top of the first.

Chadron State tied the game in the bottom of the second after a leadoff triple. The Eagles loaded the bases with two walks, and a double with two outs drove in the two runs. Chadron’s runner at first tried to make it a three-run double, but was out at home on a relay throw from left field to end the inning.

UCCS retook a 3-2 lead in the top of the third with the help of back-to-back singles to start the inning. Claire Nibbe moved Korey Kulpins and Jourdan Hitchings into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, and Belsterling used a sacrifice fly in the next at-bat to score Kulpins.

The Eagles responded in the bottom of the third using back-to-back singles to the outfield. A double scored one run, but Belsterling recorded her second strikeout of the inning with the bases loaded to keep the score tied at 3-3.

Both teams went down in order in the fourth inning, and the Mountain Lions put Chadron State down in order in both the sixth and seventh innings. The Eagles put two runners on base in the fifth inning, and UCCS put runners in scoring position in the fifth and seventh innings, but neither team could convert those into runs in that four-inning span.

The first two batters for UCCS were retired by a strikeout and groundout before Jennings sparked the offense with a single on the left side. Dani Fonseca reached with a single to the shortstop to move Jennings to second, and Hoffman’s double scored the winning run in the top of the eighth. The Mountain Lion defense put together another 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the eighth to secure the win and snap a five-game losing streak coming into the tournament.

Belsterling won her 12th game of the season with her third straight appearance with at least five strikeouts. Paige Duncan went two-of-three at the plate with a double, and Jennings and Fonseca each went two-of-four.