Huskies face big challenges down in Texas

10/6/19 Softball by Brandon Barzola Huskies suffer a heartbreaking 7-8 defeat against Boston College.

Unlike other softball teams who played midweek, the Huskies will be back in action after a weekend invitational in Florida to take on a multitude of teams in the state of Texas. 

The Huskies (3-2) will look to build off their decent start to begin the season after strong performances from both underclassmen and upperclassmen. 

Starting with the pitching, Marybeth Olson has yet to debut this season, but Payton Kinney has been lights out in her place. The Big East freshman and pitcher of the week went 2-1 over the weekend, allowing seven runs (two earned) on 16 hits for an ERA of 0.52. What was impressive, though, was her 26 strikeouts as she outright dominated opposing hitters and her three complete games, one of which went into extra innings.  

Behind her is sophomore Meghan O’Neill, who started two out of the five games. O’Neill has a 0.55 ERA having allowed just one earned run and six overall on 10 hits. She may not strikeout many batters, but she is an absolute workhorse for the Huskies in that solid rotation. Look for both pitchers to add some strong numbers this weekend. 

At the plate, redshirt junior Hollis Wivell and senior Reese Guevara have brought the hitting power to the plate, both hitting over .400 after one weekend. Freshman Jana Sanden has been scoring the runs as her five runs batted in leads the team. Junior Aziah James has dangerous speed as she is a perfect 7-7 on stolen base attempts so far. 

The power is balanced, with redshirt junior Sami Barnett, freshman Taylor Zatyk and Sanden each having hit one home run. Senior Brianna Marcelino hit just .125 in the opening weekend but will look to improve off those numbers this weekend down in Texas. To beat some of the fierce competition that lies ahead, the hitting is going to have to be there from the first inning until the seventh. 

The opponents are going to be tough, and great challenges for the Huskies as they prepare for conference play. Two of the teams are ranked while the other two bring a lot of fight. 

Leading off with Ole Miss, the Rebels (4-5) went 2-3 last weekend against teams such as the Florida Atlantic Owls, the formerly No. 21 Missouri Tigers and the Iowa State Cyclones, securing two blowout wins against Florida Atlantic. 

They may be a game under .500, but do not count them out just yet. Senior Jessica Puk, sister of Oakland Athletics pitcher A.J. Puk, has been raking to start the season as her four home runs and 12 runs batted in lead the team. Meanwhile, freshman Blaise Biringer and junior Tate Whitley have batted over .400 with senior Abby Latham not far behind with a .355 average. 

On the mound, senior Anna Borgen and junior Savannah Diederich are the stable that will be relied on for the weekend. Borgen has started one game but is more of a relief pitcher with an amazing 1.83 ERA having allowed just two runs on seven hits in four games. Diederich, meanwhile, has a whopping 32 strikeouts despite a 4.07 ERA. It may be early, but she is the ace of the program and one the Huskies should look out for. The Huskies will look to take a 2-1 lead in the series this weekend. 

Next on the list is the No. 21 Baylor Bears (2-1), who recently took care of business against the Texas-Arlington Mavericks. They are 1-0 against UConn all time. The Bears are more renowned for their speed and ability to just hit singles, but it appears they are starting to shift towards power. 

Freshman Aliya Binford and senior Taylor Ellis have brought the small-ball part of the game so far as both have hit over .300. Binford is also one of three players to have brought the power as she, senior Goose McGlaun and freshman Emily Hott have all hit one home run. 

Junior Sidney Holman-Mansell and senior Gia Rodoni have made all the starts so far. Holman-Mansell has allowed just one run on four hits for an ERA of 1.17 while Rodoni has a 6.39 ERA after giving up seven runs on eight hits. Both pitchers have seven strikeouts each and should not be taken lightly when going up against them. 

Then there is the Lamar Cardinals (2-8), who lost twice to No. 11 Oklahoma State this past Monday. Despite their record, they should not be counted out immediately as they do have a win over the Houston Cougars. 

Leading the charge on offense is junior Aleka Xayaseng, who’s .250 average is second on the team. She is also a dangerous leadoff hitter as she is a perfect 4-4 on stolen base attempts to begin the season. Senior Hannah Carpenter has two home runs and seven runs batted in so far, both of which lead the team. One other key player to watch out for is junior Savannah Mata, who is currently batting .286, which leads the team. 

The pitching is interesting to say the least, no one has an ERA under five. The two pitchers to look out for are freshmen Hannah Williams and Breanna Reyna. Williams has struck out nine over 11.2 innings of work while Reyna has sat down six in 16.1 innings of work. Despite the numbers, this is a combination to look out for. 

Finally, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns (3-0), who had ten games canceled due to the recent snowstorm that affected the entire state, took out Wichita State, North Texas and Texas State by one run in extra innings over a five-day span. This will be their first meeting against the Huskies. 

Despite having played just three games, the Longhorns have two players hitting over .400. Those hitters are junior Janae Jefferson, who is a hit shy of 200 for her career, and junior Lauren Burke. Burke and senior Shannon Rhodes are tied for the team lead with one home run each. The key thing to look out for here is scoring as the Longhorns are 28-4 since 2019 when scoring in the first inning. 

The stable on the mound is very dangerous as they have allowed just one unearned run combined over 20 innings of work. The three-headed monster involves sophomore Shea O’Leary, who has a complete game and seven strikeouts, freshman Ryleigh White and grad student Molly Jacobson. Hitters will have a hard time against any pitcher they face. 

Five games, two cities, two invitationals. The Huskies start with Ole Miss at 2 p.m. on Friday, followed by Baylor at 4:30 p.m. The next day, UConn faces Lamar at 1 p.m. and Baylor at 6 p.m. Sunday, the Huskies travel to Austin for an 11 a.m. showdown with the Longhorns to wrap up the Lone Star Invitational. 

Games against Baylor will be on ESPN+ under Big 12 Now while games against Texas are available on the Longhorn Network. 

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