Ashley Kirk was on the verge of adding to her already significant legacy in the history of North Texas softball on Saturday.
Kirk needed just three more outs in the top of the seventh inning of the opening game of a doubleheader against Louisiana Tech to finish off the fourth no-hitter of her career.
That opportunity slipped away when Pauline Tufi laced a double into left-center field off the senior, who settled for a 3-1 win.
The scenario was familiar for Kirk, who was within an out of throwing another no-hitter this season in a win over Texas-San Antonio.
“It was more important that we got the win,” Kirk said. “At this point in my career, I’m not looking for the no-hitters or perfect games. I just want us as a team to put a win in the win column.”
UNT (24-14, 9-5 Conference USA) managed that feat just once in the doubleheader, losing the second game 3-2.
The Mean Green committed three errors in the second game and managed just three hits. A tough outing in the final game of the day set up a showdown for the series win at 1 p.m. today.
The Mean Green entered the day among five teams in C-USA with four or five losses in league play, while Tulsa was still perfect at 9-0. Playing Louisiana Tech (14-25, 5-9) was supposed to offer UNT a chance at a three-game sweep.
“We have to win the series,” Kirk said. “The more wins you get, the higher seed you are going to be in the conference tournament.”
UNT appeared to be well on its way to improving its standing in the league while Kirk mowed down hitters in the first game. Kirk struck out 10 and walked five in a complete game that moved her past Ashley Lail and into sole possession of second place in school history with 49 complete games.
Kirk also extended her school records for wins with 55 and strikeouts with 651.
Left fielder Jackie Miller provided all the offense UNT needed with an RBI single in the second inning and added an RBI double in the sixth. Center fielder Kat Strunk went 3-for-3 and drove in UNT’s other run with a single in the fifth.
The Mean Green appeared as if it was on its way to the sweep when third baseman Jordan Terry launched a two-run home run to left field in the first inning. Those turned out to be the only runs UNT would score off Tufi.
Louisiana Tech completed its comeback after it scored two runs in the fifth inning on an error by shortstop Brooke Foster, who had a ball bounce off her glove and into center field with two runners on base.
“I thought that home run would catapult us to more runs,” Terry said. “I didn’t think she would shut us down like that.
“We are not in a groove right now offensively and need to get in one.”
The loss overshadowed a near-historic game for Kirk.
“It’s hard, but she has the best attitude and kept her head up,” Terry said of her teammate seeing the no-hitter slip away. “It didn’t faze her. She went on and finished the game.”
Kirk knew from experience that finishing off a no-hitter can be tough and saw it quickly get away after Tufi doubled. Pinch runner Tori Charters came around to score on a wild pitch, ending the shutout as well.
“I think the other team starts to think about it,” Kirk said. “They swing to try to get something going. No one wants to be no-hit. It was a good pitch. I wasn’t going to walk her. I was going to have her hit it or strike her out.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.