Utes play first game at home against Utah State

It’s always good to be home, but for the U softball team, it’s a lifesaver, considering what the team had to go through over the past few months.

A series of issues, including injuries, traveling problems and discomfort on playing surfaces plagued the team through the first part of the season, but many of its problems will be solved with the team finally coming back to play its first home game today against Utah State at 3 p.m. at Ute Field.

“It’s always difficult to be on the road, but when you are on the road this much, you just want to come back,” U coach Mona Stevens said.

Over Spring Break, the team competed in the Hawaii Invitational and it did not go so well.

Utah snapped a 10-game losing streak against North Texas, but dropped four other games in Hawaii.

“The thing that really concerned me was that our pitching was bad because it hasn’t been bad all season,” Stevens said.

The problems that have usually plagued the team on the field have been on defense, and thus far the defense has committed several errors.

The defensive and pitching problems should be remedied somewhat now that the Utes can actually practice on grass.

With the cold weather in Utah during the winter, the team had to practice on artificial turf in the bubble, which is not the same surface it has played on during tournaments.

“Now we can practice on the grass and our players will know how to react better in all situations,” Stevens said.

The travel issues have worn out the team even before the tournaments have started.

“We have had travel issues, from buses that don’t show up to planes that are canceled, so it has been real difficult in terms of the amount of travel we have had to go through,” Stevens said. “It really hurts you in the tournaments because you don’t have enough time to rest and you are already worn out before the games.”

Not only has the team been fatigued with travel over the past two months, but it has been through many tough opponents in the tournaments.

“We never pick who we play in tournaments, and this past week, we had an incredible amount of ranked teams and we haven’t been able to catch a break,” Stevens said.

Against tough teams earlier in the year, the Utes seemed to be improving and ready to get over the hump and win some significant games, but they have not been able to win consistently against them.

However, now the Utes go into a schedule that is much easier.

“I hate to say it, but I don’t think our conference is as strong as the teams we have been playing,” Stevens said. “I am hoping our strength of schedule really helps us through the rest of the season.”

The disparity in the talent level between the Mountain West Conference and other power conferences around the country is obvious, but the Utes still need to improve their play and get healthy in order to compete for a conference title.

Second baseman Jackie Wong, who hurt her ankle tripping on a sprinkler a couple weeks ago, has not improved at all.

“The injury has gotten worse,” Stevens said. “We taped it up and it had a reaction and she got a rash. She has been on crutches and is seeing the doctor [Monday].”

Along with Wong, Texie Criddle and Bryanne Durrence have alos had injury issue.

“Texie has a broken finger and just needs time, while Bryanne has had some pain in her knee, so we decided to rest her throughout the weekend,” Stevens said.

But every team has injuries, and this one is no different. The Utes will have to play with the players who are healthy today against the Aggies.

“You can always bank on a good game with the Aggies,” Stevens said. “They have good players and we saw them in the fall, but they don’t have the pitchers and the hitters that we have been facing.”

Now, the Utes don’t have excuses and will have to come together as a team, get healthy and string together some wins if they want to contend for the MWC title.

Stevens believes they can get it done.

“Now we are going to play some teams that we can breathe against,” Stevens said,

“If we can get [the players] breathing and get them some confidence, we can turn the corner and never look back,” she said.

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