North Texas Daily

Softball fighting for C-USA tournament

Softball fighting for C-USA tournament

Softball fighting for C-USA tournament
April 29
23:43 2015

Alex Lessard / Staff Writer

Headed into last weekend, the Mean Green softball team looked to clinch a spot in the Conference USA tournament with a good showing in a three-game series on the road against Louisiana Tech University.

Instead, the team dropped all three games by three runs or less, including a crushing 5-4 loss on a walk-off double with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to end the series. Since pulling off a seven-game winning streak in March, the Mean Green has now lost 15 of its past 17 games and nearly played itself out of a chance at qualifying for the C-USA tournament at a 16-29 record.

“We could have been in any of those games, and losing the last one in walk-off fashion was just how our weekend went,” head coach Tracey Kee said. “Every walk, every hit batter, every base running mistake, everything just really seemed to implode on us this weekend and put us in a bad situation.”

With only four games, including three conference games, left on the schedule, the Mean Green will have to capitalize during a pivotal three-game weekend series against the University of Texas-El Paso at Lovelace Stadium to cap off the season. Two spots in the C-USA tournament still remain unclaimed, and with a flurry of possible playoff scenarios, North Texas needs to win at least two of three games against UTEP this weekend to improve its conference record and jump the Miners in the West Division standings.

Inconsistency has steadily deflated Kee’s squad this season, especially in the circle. However, Kee said the young pitching staff has looked much better over the past three weeks.

“If you had told me we’d score one run on Saturday in two games [vs. UTEP], I would have never believed it with this offense,” Kee said. “I felt like our pitchers held us in it as long as they possibly could.”

Kee and various players have also pointed to team chemistry issues as a major cause of the Mean Green’s recent struggles. Senior outfielder Jen Beardsley said the harmony among players has gone  up and down the entire season.

“We have weeks where it’ll be all together, we’re all for it,” Beardsley said. “Then the next week, it’ll be like you don’t even know who you’re playing next to.”

The team’s sense of focus and resolve from its 31-22 campaign last season has wavered this season. Senior infielder Dani Hoff said the team desperately misses the leadership of former Mean Green pitcher Ashley Kirk.

“It’s easy to see sometimes we need that coach on the field,” Hoff said. “We need somebody that can step up and be the mom.”

The Mean Green’s level of play on the field has mirrored the inconsistent and unpredictable weather in the North Texas area all spring. Twelve games have been cancelled or postponed because of inclement weather this year, three times as many as last season. Kee said until this Tuesday, the team went nearly a week and a half without holding outdoor practice on its home turf because of rain.

“I take full responsibility for how this team is performing, but it’s been very difficult this year,” Kee said. “We’ve lost a lot of games to weather in regards to mid-week games and early games in the season that we could have used right now.”

Hoff said the team gathered for a meeting during Tuesday’s practice to make sure the urgency level is at an all-time high headed into the final week of the year.

“There’s games here and there that we dropped that could have turned our whole season around, but we still have at least four games left that we can make the most of,” Hoff said. “I really encourage the team to not check out yet and to be present. Don’t just be here, don’t just go through the motions, but really be present.”

Adding to the pressure building up toward this weekend’s games is the fact that senior day will come along with it. Sunday’s noon matchup may be the final time the senior class puts on Mean Green uniforms. But the team remains set on getting to the C-USA tournament.

“We know that this week is the most important week of our season, no matter what happened in the past,” Beardsley said. “This is what we have to work for, and if we don’t make it work, we won’t have another week.”

Featured Image: Senior infielder Dani Hoff stretches out to tag a Southern Mississippi University base runner during a home game on March 15.

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