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Softball: UNT looks to keep late-season run going

Profile image for By Brett Vito / Staff Writer
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

North Texas head coach T.J. Hubbard came into the season thinking 30 wins was a realistic goal.

Thanks to a remarkable run at the end of the year, the Mean Green is on the verge of reaching that milestone and a few others this week during the Sun Belt Conference tournament in Troy, Ala.

UNT (27-22) started to pick up steam when it pulled off a huge upset, knocking off No. 19 Baylor on April 17, and hasn’t looked back since, winning nine of its last 12 games.

The Mean Green will look to continue that run at 10 a.m. today when it faces Florida Atlantic (27-27) in the opening game of the eight-team event.

UNT is the No. 4 seed, while FAU is the No. 5 seed.

“The tournament is about the breaks,” Hubbard said. “Hopefully, the ball bounces your way. Where we are in the four-five game, the teams are pretty evenly matched. It is going to be a battle. If you get on a roll, you can ride it all the way to the finals.”

UNT has been riding exactly that kind of wave of momentum for the last several weeks.

The Mean Green followed up its big win over Baylor and a split of a doubleheader with the Bears by sweeping Middle Tennessee. Ashley Kirk then turned around and threw a pair of five-inning no-hitters in the Mean Green’s final Sun Belt series of the season, a three-game sweep of Louisiana-Monroe.

Freshman catcher Taylor Schoblocher followed Kirk’s big weekend up with a walk-off grand slam in an 8-7 win over rival UTA two days later.

Dani Hoff kept the Mean Green’s momentum going, albeit in a less dramatic way, when she launched a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning that gave UNT a 2-1 win over Stephen F. Austin to end the regular season.

The only teams to knock off UNT during its recent run are Baylor, No. 1 ranked Oklahoma and UTA, which snuck past the Mean Green 2-1 on April 24.

“We played about this well right before conference play started,” Hubbard said. “The difference now is that we are scoring a lot more runs. We were scoring three or four runs a game. Now we are scoring five, six or seven. We are hitting our stride.”

UNT has scored at least five runs in seven of its last 12 games and posted eight runs in four straight games before its season-ending win over SFA.

A lot of the credit for UNT’s offensive consistency of late has to go to Brooke Foster, one of the most consistent players in the Sun Belt who enters the league tournament hitting .391.

What has made a difference for UNT of late is that several of the Mean Green’s younger players are consistently producing.

Schoblocher drove in five runs in UNT’s series against MTSU and then hit two home runs against ULM in the Mean Green’s final two series in Sun Belt play. Hoff finished with six hits and five RBIs in UNT’s series against ULM.

Hubbard also singled out Karly Williams and Jackie Miller as players who have come on and helped fuel UNT’s improvement offensively.

“The biggest difference is that the offense has figured it out and we have the people in there we need,” Hubbard said. “Some of the kids we expected to play well have come on.”

Add in the solid pitching Kirk has provided, and UNT believes it has a solid all-around team heading into the conference tournament. Kirk is 14-8 on the year with a 2.45 ERA.

“I like how we match up with FAU,” Hubbard said. “Kirk threw really well against them twice.”

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