Softball: Kirk key in circle as Mean Green splits with Tulsa

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North Texas coach Tracey Kee talked to her players about finding a way to bend without breaking a few days ago.

The Mean Green was in the midst of a long skid that only got longer before that discussion paid off late in the second game of a doubleheader against Tulsa on Saturday at Lovelace Stadium.

UNT suffered a tough 7-3 loss in the opening game and was on the verge of what would have been a devastating sweep before pitcher Ashley Kirk helped the Mean Green work its way out of a jam and pull out a landmark 3-2 win.

Tulsa tied the second game at 2 in the top of the fifth when Jodi Edmiston walked and raced around to score when Jordan Terry fielded a bunt from Maggie Withee and fired it past first baseman Danielle Hoff and deep into the right field corner.

Withee raced to third and stood there with the game tied at 2 with no one out. She was still there at the end of the inning.

“It was a credit to Kirk that she kept us in the game,” Kee said. “The key point in that game was that kid getting to third on that error and us getting out of it. This team three weeks ago wouldn’t have gotten through that.”

Kirk struck out right fielder Haley Henshaw and then recorded arguably the biggest out of the game when she lured a short fly ball to center from shortstop Jill Barrett, who entered the day hitting .467.

One more fly out gave UNT a chance to win in the closing innings. Left fielder Jackie Miller cashed in with an RBI double off the center field wall that scored center fielder Kat Strunk.

Kee and her players said there is no way to underestimate how big the win was for UNT.

Tulsa (47-6, 19-3 C-USA) is ranked 18th nationally and already had wrapped up the Conference USA regular-season title.

The Mean Green (29-21, 13-9) entered the weekend in third place in the C-USA standings but was in danger of falling all the way to eighth if it lost all three games to Tulsa.

There is still a lot to be determined when it comes to where UNT will finish after the final day of the regular season. The Mean Green will face the Golden Hurricane at 1 p.m. today in the final game of the series and feels a lot better after splitting the first two games.

“It’s such a big win,” Miller said. “Tulsa is No. 1 in the conference. That will help us with seeding in the conference tournament and shows that we can beat anyone in the conference.”

The way the Mean Green performed in the second game also showed that it took Kee’s talk about being resilient to heart. UNT entered the day having lost five straight and saw that skid reach six in the opening game — one the Mean Green appeared to have wrapped up.

Shortstop Brooke Foster hit a two-run homer to left in the third inning to put UNT up 3-1. The Mean Green still led 3-2 heading into the top of the seventh.

That lead vanished when Catherine Horner homered to left to lead off the inning.

Tulsa took advantage of the opportunity that home run provided when it loaded the bases in the ninth on a pair of singles and a walk. Shelby Blanton unloaded with a grand slam over the right field fence.

“For the first game to go as long as it did and be on the backside of it, I was proud of the way our kids responded,” Kee said. “I thought they came out in that second game with good energy and just continued to fight.”

UNT had several players respond with plays that helped the Mean Green pull off the upset a short time later, but it was Kirk’s poise late with a runner standing on third base and the game on the line that was the key point in the game.

“We did a good job of coming back and staying focused,” Kirk said. “It was tough, but we handled it.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.


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