The UConn softball team will travel to Houston this weekend to play in its first game of the American Athletic Conference Championship.
After finishing the season 8-13 in the conference, No. 6 UConn will play No. 3 Houston on Thursday in a one-game playoff.
Houston (37-17, 12-8 The American) is a strong team that swept UConn (21-29, 8-13 The American) earlier in the season. They have a strong pitching staff and some solid sticks in their lineup, but they have a weak defensive infield. Their defense made 70 errors in 54 games this season which has led to 38 unearned runs given up.
Offensively Houston can throw up some runs behind Arielle James and Lindsey Stewart. Between the two of them, they have driven in 55 runs - just over one per game. They will likely be aggressive on the base paths, as they were successful on 49 of 64 attempted steals.
James slashed .371/.446/.550 this season with 16 doubles, 33 runs scored and 16 walks to just seven strikeouts. The second baseman had 15 multi-hit games this season, including two against UConn.
Stewart has been impressive as well, slashing .323/.358/.461 with two home runs, five triples, seven doubles, 31 RBIs and ten walks. She is the team leader in RBIs but all but four of those came in non-conference action. Stewart has also stolen eight bases in 13 tries this season, with four in conference play.
They have a lights-out pitching staff that has a team ERA of 1.88 and a WHIP of 1.06. Their top-two starters, Presley Bell and Savannah Heebner, have thrown a combined 244.1 innings this season with a 1.43 ERA between the two of them. They have also combined to complete 28 games this season, so if UConn sees one of them, they are likely to pitch the full seven innings.
While they are not privy to giving up runs, Heebner will give up extra base hits. She gave up 10 home runs, 22 doubles and a triple this season. However, she is unlikely to walk people as she averaged one free pass per 4.59 innings pitched. As a result of their lack luster defense, 17 of the 49 runs she gave up were unearned.
Houston’s infield defense committed 63 errors this season which contributed to the 38 unearned runs given up their pitching staff. Their starting infield, in particular, has struggled as James, Aspen Howie and Sarah Queen have made a combined 45 errors. Catcher Brooke Vannoy also has recorded 17 passed balls this year.
They have yet to see pitcher Jill Stockley this season, as she missed time with back issues. Last year, she led UConn to a 4-2 victory over the Cougars as she struck out five and walked one through seven strong innings. She also through four hitless frames against them in 2017, before giving up five in the fifth inning. If she can use her past performances as a launching point, then UConn may win this game.
This Cougars team is strong, but they have a glaring defensive weak spot, and if UConn can capitalize on their miscues then they may have a chance to win and move on. The game is scheduled start 37 minutes after the end of Game 3. Whoever wins this game will take on the winner of Game 3, which is No. 2 Tulsa versus No. 7 ECU.
Mike Mavredakis is a campus correspondent for the Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.