UConn softball will travel down to Texas for a weekend series against the University of Houston. The Cougars sit just behind UConn on the conference standings with an in-conference record of 3-6 compared to the Huskies’ 4-5.
Houston (26-15) had the luxury of starting the season with four consecutive series held in Houston against some smaller softball programs. The Cougars went 16-6 over those four series, giving their overall record a big boost.
When it comes to conference play, Houston won their first series against Wichita State 2-1, got swept by USF 0-3 in Houston and lost a series 1-2 to Tulsa. That makes them 1-5 in their last six conference games, while UConn (15-21) is 4-2 thanks to 2-1 series wins against Wichita State and Memphis.
UConn’s recent success (6-4 in their last 10) has been a result of great pitching and defense, as well as some timely hitting. No batter has been as hot at the plate as Briana Marcelino, who is currently top three in the conference in batting average (.404), slugging (.684), RBIs (33), home runs (8) and total bases (78). Driving in runs is Marcelino’s specialty, and she gets some help from table setters Ashley Esty and Reese Guevarra, who have scored 19 and 22 runs this season, respectively.
Meanwhile, Marybeth Olson has been getting outs what seems like effortlessly. She had a great ERA just over 2.00 last week, and after a few starts has managed to get that down even further to 1.71. That is good for fifth in the conference, while she is also fourth in strikeouts with 114.
Houston is also a team that prides themselves on their pitching, which is one of the deepest staffs in the conference. Their ace, Presley Bell, is first on the team and second in the conference in ERA with a stellar 1.22. She is also second in the conference in opposing batting average with .184.
Bell isn’t the only pitcher on the Cougar’s staff with a sub-2.00 ERA. Savannah Heebner sports a 1.80 ERA and leads the team in innings pitched (108.2) and strikeouts (79). Expect to see a lot of her this weekend.
Their third pitcher would be a low-end ace or a really good number two on most other pitching staffs. Trystan Melancon has a 2.46 ERA and is fifth in the conference in opposing batting average with .191.
Houston’s defense, however, doesn’t do their pitchers many favors. Houston has made 55 errors through 41 games this season (1.34 per game), compared to UConn who has committed just 34 through 36 games (0.94 per game).
Houston doesn’t have very many threats at the plate, which results in a lot of low-scoring games for the Cougars. This team doesn’t hit for much power, and their team leaders in home runs are Tierrah Williams and Brooke Vannoy, with three each. They are anything but dangerous hittings, as they have batting averages of .208 and .192, respectively.
Infielder Lindsey Stewart and outfielder Arielle James are the Cougars’ two best batters. Stewart is batting .347 with 21 runs scores, 24 RBIs and two home runs. James bats .339 with 24 runs scored, 14 home runs and two home runs as well.
What this team lacks in power, they try to make up for with speed and smarts on the base paths. Houston is 31-42 on stolen base attempts this season, with Stewart and James going a combined 9-15.
Look for Houston to try and take control of this series with dominant pitching and chaos on the bases. UConn will have to set the table with Esty and Guevarra for the likes of Marcelino, Kiwi McDonald and Carli Cutler to drive in to steal some runs from Houston’s stingy pitching staff. Simply putting balls in play could help get baserunners against a defense that averages around four errors every three games.
UConn can neutralize the Cougars’ offense by getting some outs on the bases. The Huskies’ great defense is the perfect counter to a team that likes to play small ball and take chances on the basepaths.
The first game of the series will be played Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday’s game will be at 3 p.m. and Sunday’s game will be at 1 p.m. all Eastern Standard Time.
Sean Janos is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.