U softball aims to improve .500 record in California tourney

The Ute softball team (5-5) will continue its ill-timed run through non-conference tournaments in the stormy western United States this weekend at the Palm Springs Classic in California.

Currently on a three-game losing streak, the U will try to right the ship during five weekend games.

Coach Mona Stevens has high hopes for a team that perhaps hasn’t shown its true colors yet.

“I think that we are right there with all of the opponents that we’ll face in Palm Springs,” Stevens said, adding, “Right now, the opponent is insignificant. Our focus is to stop trying so hard. We need to get back to the free and easy play that I know we’re capable of playing.”

Overall, the Utes have been effective scoring runs and pitching, but they can’t be relied upon to do both consistently. Last weekend saw the Utes get no-hit (by Fresno State’s Jamie Southern) and held to four total runs in three contests.

They hit a lethargic .176 for the tournament, dropping their season average to a still-solid .292.

Junior first baseman Ivette Hernandez homered in the last two games, and leads the team with five overall on the campaign.

Freshman Diana Phillips ranks fourth in the Mountain West conference in batting average (.370) and heads a class of young talent that has shown great promise.

The young offense has sputtered at times, however, and the pitching of juniors Brianna Gourdin (fifth in the MWC with a 1.40 earned run average) and Lindsie Nielsen (3.14 earned run average, 3-2) has kept things close when the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders.

The Utes hope to find a little more balance this time around.

“Our pitching staff and defense have been solid all year, and I know we have great hitters in our lineup,” Stevens said. “We have to get the monkey off our backs. We need a weekend where we hit the ball solidly.”

Play begins with a doubleheader on Friday against Oklahoma State and Kansas. Saturday features another doubleheader against Bethune-Cookman and Mississippi State, and the Utes will face Wisconsin early Sunday morning before heading home. The tournament will be hosted by Oregon State.

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