The first two weekends of the Sun Belt Conference season represented a key opportunity for the North Texas softball team, one that is still there for the taking heading into a three-game series against Troy.
UNT will face the Trojans (11-15, 1-1 Sun Belt) in a doubleheader at 1 p.m. Saturday before finishing the series with a single game at noon Sunday.
The series is the second straight at home to open conference play for UNT, which split two games with Western Kentucky on Sunday.
UNT (12-11) lost the first game 1-0 before coming back to win the second 2-1 to cap a doubleheader that was played in poor conditions. The teams were scheduled to play a doubleheader Saturday and a single game Sunday before rain forced the schools to reschedule.
“The conditions on Sunday were not conducive to good softball,” UNT coach T.J. Hubbard said. “The wind was 20 to 30 miles an hour straight in your face. It was bad. That is why it was a pitchers’ duel. There were some screamer shots hit into the wind and the shortstop would catch them. It was rough.”
UNT had runners on second and third with no one out while trailing 1-0 in the sixth inning of the opener and failed to score. The Mean Green stranded seven runners in the game.
Brooke Foster drove home UNT’s first run of the weekend with a single up the middle in the second game. Bryana Wade and Lesley Hirsch singled in the fifth, when pinch runner Lauren Poole scored the winning run on an error.
UNT will have a chance to make a move toward the top of the Sun Belt standings this weekend after only Florida Atlantic escaped the first weekend of Sun Belt play unscathed. FAU is 3-0, while Western Kentucky is 2-1. UNT is among four teams at 1-1, while traditional Sun Belt power Louisiana-Lafayette is 1-2.
“It would be nice to sweep,” Hubbard said of the upcoming series against Troy. “This will give us a chance to jump to the top of the standings.”
Better weather conditions could help UNT reach that goal after a tough weekend.
“We hit well,” Hubbard said. “We hit three balls in the first game that if the wind was blowing in another direction or not blowing at all would have been out of the park. They ended up as doubles and singles.”
Pitching a bright spot
While UNT suffered through a tough weekend in terms of its offensive output, it did post two impressive pitching performances.
Ashley Kirk allowed one run on three hits with three strikeouts in the opening game of the doubleheader, but ended up taking the loss and falling to 5-4. Brittany Simmons allowed one run on six hits in the second game and improved to 4-3.
“Simmons threw a good game and so did Kirk,” Hubbard said. “Kirk walked back-to-back runners with two outs and then gave up a flare that scored the only run.”
UNT has a 3.22 team ERA.
Mean Green to check out Sun Belt tournament site
UNT will get a sneak peek this week at what the Sun Belt tournament will have in store at the end of the season, or at least the venue.
Louisiana-Lafayette will play host to the conference tournament April 18-21. UNT will be in Lafayette this weekend for matches against ULL and Louisiana-Monroe.
The Mean Green will face ULM on Saturday before taking on the Ragin’ Cajuns on Sunday.
“I thought it would be good to go over there and get familiar with the courts,” UNT coach Sujay Lama said.
UNT (8-4) will enter that series of matches coming off a second consecutive weekend split. The Mean Green lost to Tulsa 4-1 before coming back to beat Wichita State by the same score.
UNT played Tulsa at Las Colinas Country Club due to inclement weather.
“They are a very good indoor team,” Lama said. “We had opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them. We came back to beat Wichita State. The conditions were tough, but we hung in there.”
UNT lost at Wichita State last season.
“The good thing is that we have beaten everyone we were supposed to beat,” Lama said. “All of our losses are to teams in the top 25. We have not broken through yet against a top-25 team, but we are where we are supposed to be.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .