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PREVIEW: Softball carries momentum into battle of C-USA’s preseason favorites

PREVIEW: Softball carries momentum into battle of C-USA’s preseason favorites

PREVIEW: Softball carries momentum into battle of C-USA’s preseason favorites
March 25
10:44 2022

Coming off two home wins last weekend, softball heads to the East Coast to take on the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in a three-game series starting Friday. 

North Texas (16-6, 5-1 Conference USA) was originally scheduled to play Stephen F. Austin State University (11-16, 4-2 Western Athletic Conference) on Tuesday before a weather postponement. It gave the team a five-day break between its series with Florida Atlantic University (16-16, 4-2 C-USA) and facing Charlotte (21-8, 3-3 C-USA).

Junior left-handed pitcher Ashley Peters and freshman right-handed pitcher Skylar Savage have been the only two pitchers to take the circle for the Mean Green since March 6. In that span, Savage has pitched 29.1 innings with Peters close behind at 26.2. Head coach Rodney DeLong said the break is much-needed for his pitchers.

“[The break] definitely helps us in the circle, there’s a huge load that our [pitchers] are having to carry weekend to weekend,”  DeLong said. “It allows us to focus our attention on Charlotte, which is where I want it to be.”

In the C-USA preseason poll, Charlotte was selected above North Texas to win the conference. The 49ers won the C-USA East Division in 2021, falling to the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the conference tournament. Meanwhile, the Mean Green won the regular season conference title with a program record of 38 wins before facing the same fate as the 49ers in the conference tournament.

The weekend series with Charlotte sets up an early preseason No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup between the two squads. Rather than being discouraged by the runner-up ranking, sophomore first baseman Kailey Gamble said North Texas’ players use it as an incentive to win.

“[Charlotte ranking first in the preseason poll] is our motivation, them being chosen ahead of us,” Gamble said. “We worked hard for where we’re at right now […] just gives us that drive [to go] in there wanting to beat them.”

The 49ers dropped their opening conference series versus reigning conference champions Western Kentucky University by losing two of three games, each decided by two fewer runs. Charlotte bounced back from the opening series loss with a series win versus the University of Texas-San Antonio last weekend, taking two of three to bring the team back to .500 in conference play.

Preseason conference player of the year catcher Bailey Vannoy currently holds the conference lead in home runs with 11 and hits with 40. Charlotte’s pitching staff is led by a one-two punch of right-handers, graduate Amelia Wiercioch and senior Lindsey Walljasper. Together, they have compiled a combined 15-4 record and both own a sub-3.00 ERA.

“Charlotte’s really talented,” DeLong said. “They’re coached really well. It’s going to be a hostile environment and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

As for the Mean Green, they have gotten out to a 5-1 conference start following a sweep of the University of Southern Mississippi and a series win over Florida Atlantic. Sophomore outfielder Lexi Cobb has broken out this season as North Texas’ top batter with a .429 batting average to go with a .525 on-base percentage. However, the Mean Green were without Cobb in last weekend’s series.

In Cobb’s absence, sophomore outfielder Kalei Christensen leads the North Texas offense in home runs with eight and RBIs with 23. Freshman outfielder Sydney Ingle has occupied the centerfield position for the Mean Green in Cobb’s absence.

Savage and Peters have pitched in every conference game this season, with Peters holding the edge in wins with nine to Savage’s five. Sophomore catcher Ashlyn Walker has served the integral role of battery-mate for Peters and Savage, starting all but one game this season and every conference game.

“[The] new pitchers on staff this year are awesome,” Walker said. “They’ve come together as a team and even though we’re all new it feels like we’ve been playing together for a long time.”

Riding two conference series wins and taking seven of their last 10 games overall, the Mean Green are carrying momentum heading into Charlotte as the team attempts to continue its run of early conference form.

“If we come out strong and we give them our best shot, that’s all we can ask for,” Walker said. “We can’t let up and we have to keep up our effort.”

Featured Image: Sophomore Lexi Cobb holds the bat during a game on 9, 2022. Photo by Kristian Freeman

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

fall sports editor

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