Softball: Slinging the rock in the Lone Star state

By By Jason Peterson and By Jason Peterson

By Jason Peterson

The U softball team is back on the road this weekend — this time in Austin, Texas — to participate in the Texas Classic.

In the Utes’ previous road trips to St. George, Utah, and Tempe, Ariz., the club went 7-3. Most recently, Utah suffered a one-point loss at the hands of No. 25 Oregon State.

The team isn’t discouraged, though. Senior outfielder Kelly Matthews said her club will be ready to rebound from its current two-game losing streak and play up to its potential.

“We should’ve won those games last week, but we’re still doing a great job,” Matthews said.

Matthews said the team has been running specific drills to improve individual play. She said these drills, called “Hairy’s,” are meant to simulate game situations, such as scoring with runners on base.

The coaches are doing their part by scouting the upcoming opponents for the Texas Classic, which kicks off with a rematch against Wisconsin this Friday at 11 a.m. The Utes opened the season with a 3-1 victory over the Badgers on Feb. 8.

“The coaches will look at their defensive strategies, where they play their bunts, how they play their short games and stuff like that,” Matthews said. “(Utah head coach) Amy (Hogue) is making us think of things we’ve never thought about before. I think we really trust them and what they bring to the game. They trust us and we trust them.”

However, Hogue and her staff will be unable to prepare beyond Wisconsin and the Utes’ next two opponents this weekend — Wichita State and No. 22 Texas — because the second portion of the tournament is a single-elimination tournament.

The Longhorns figure to be the Utes’ toughest competition this weekend, as they are the favorites to win the tournament. Texas (8-4) has already beaten two nationally-ranked foes and fallen to two other ranked teams.

The Utes will have to fare without catcher Hailey Davenport, who left the team two weeks ago for personal reasons. Davenport, who was one of the U’s top hitters in 2007, got married in November and told Hogue she was planning on starting a family.

NOTES: Sophomore transfer Ashley Smuda has solidified herself as the Utes’ ace pitcher, starting in nine of Utah’s 10 games this season. She is second in the Mountain West Conference with five wins and fourth in strikeouts (30). Outfielder Kara Foster is off to a scorching start from the plate, hitting six of Utah’s 11 homeruns. Last season, she finished with 17 (10th in the nation). Senior outfielder Diana Phillips is on pace to rewrite a few Utah records this season. If Phillips maintains her .351 batting average, she will finish second all-time. Phillips will also finish among the top five in total hits if she continues her pace. She has 185 to date.

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