For the third time this season, UConn softball was swept by a conference opponent, this time by first-place Tulsa. With the three recent losses, the Huskies are now 1-10 in conference play.
Tulsa’s pitching staff, led by ace Emily Watson, soundly stifled the Huskies, whose two complete game victories on Friday and Sunday improved her record to 23-3 on the season.
The series opener on Friday was well-contested by the Huskies (15-26, 1-10 American), falling 3-1 to Tulsa (33-13, 11-1) despite a strong pitching performance from UConn starter Jill Stockley. Stockley went the distance, allowing three earned runs on eight hits over seven innings, striking out six. Unfortunately, her opponent in the circle was even better, as Watson struck out 13 batters in seven innings, surrendering only one earned run.
The Huskies’ lone run came on a well-executed bunt single by freshman Carissa Brizzi, scoring junior Emma Stanley from third, tying the game at 1-1. The Golden Hurricanes quickly responded in the next half-inning with RBI base hits from Julia Hollingsworth and Maggie Withee to seize a 3-1 lead, which would be the only run support Watson needed.
“I thought the team fought hard,” head coach Jen McIntyre said, following the loss. “[Tulsa] went up one and we answered right back. The difference in the ballgame was that a good team like that battled right back.”
Saturday’s contest was billed as “Bark in the Park Day” where fans were encouraged to bring their dogs to the game. However, the Huskies proved to be more bark than bite as they were shutout, 6-0, by another dominant pitching performance from Tulsa.
Freshman Katie Koshes got the start and ultimately the loss, giving up five runs over 5.1 innings. Koshes pitched well overall, allowing only four hits, but was due in by the long ball, as Tulsa did nearly all of their damage with home runs.
Shannon Hughes got Tulsa on the board with a solo shot in the second, and Hollingsworth followed with one of her own in the third. Koshes was relieved by junior Chelsea Eckert in the sixth after giving up an RBI single. Later in the inning, Tulsa’s Rylie Spell broke the game open with a three-run bomb, of which two runs were attributed to Koshes.
From an offensive perspective, the Huskies’ Achilles heel was on full display: an inability to drive home runners in scoring position. UConn stranded eight runners on base, six of whom were in scoring position.
“RBI hitting is a mentality; it’s just a mindset,” McIntyre said. “We just need to get the ball in play, right now we’re trying to be too big. It comes from confidence and we need someone to step up.”
Junior Emma Stanley, senior Taylor Townsend and junior Ryne Nakama each had two hits each, but the team was unable to generate any runs. Tulsa’s Haley Meinen picked up the win, shutting out the Huskies over five innings.
On Sunday, the Huskies battled Watson once again, trying to avoid the sweep. Usually, facing the same pitcher twice in three days would favor the offense. Instead, Watson was even more dominant the second time around, and the Huskies took an 8-0 defeat in an abbreviated five-inning game.
Sophomore Kelli Bates provided UConn’s only hit of the afternoon, a bunt single in the third inning. Apart from that single, and a hit-by-pitch to Nakama, Watson was essentially unhittable.
Stockley was again matched up against Tulsa’s ace, and the Golden Hurricane hitters seemed to recognize her stuff. After conceding one run in the second, Stockley couldn’t make it out of the third inning, surrendering a two-run home run to Hollingsworth. Stockley finished with five runs (three earned) over 2.1 innings. Eckert would allow three more to come home in two innings of work, and Tulsa captured the mercy rule victory.
With the sweep, Tulsa has now won seven in a row, and appears to be just outside the top-25 national rankings of most polls. UConn continues to struggle against conference foes, dropping to last place in the American Athletic Conference standings.
On a positive note, Sunday marked softball’s annual Pink Game, a day in which the team wears pink uniforms. Festivities included free pink UConn gear and a postgame softball toss for prizes including a 43” TV. In total, $245 was raised.
The Huskies will try to snap their four-game losing streak on Tuesday against UMass, a team they beat 7-1 just a week ago.