Coming off a weekend that included an upset victory over the No. 10 Missouri Tigers, the University of Connecticut softball team stayed south and participated in the Charlotte Invitational.
The Huskies first played the host Charlotte 49ers. Coming off a strong season debut against Missouri, Marybeth Olson took the mound for the Huskies. Charlotte drew first blood in the bottom of the second when Kiyah Garrett and Ella Chancey each singled to bring Madelyn Wright to the plate; Wright hit an RBI single to right field.
Charlotte went on a gold rush in the bottom of the third. The 49ers ripped three consecutive doubles, scoring two runs off them, to knock Olson out of the game and shell relief pitcher Elise Sokolsky. They then added three more runs, as MaKalah Mitchell stole home and Imani Rochelle and Garnett scored following a fielding error. The Huskies’ best chance occurred in the top of the fourth as Lexi Hastings walked, but Rosie Garcia grounded into a double play.
Charlotte added two runs in the following half-inning on a fielding error to make it an 8-0 ballgame. The 49ers did load the bases, but Grace Johnson grounded out on a fielder’s choice. The Huskies went down in order in the top of the fifth as the game concluded early due to the eight-run mercy rule.
Wright shut down the Huskies offense in near-perfect fashion. In five hitless innings, she allowed one baserunner on a fourth inning walk and struck out five. Olson went two innings for UConn, allowing four runs on six hits with a strikeout.
Next on the docket was the Campbell Camels. Sterling Hariston launched a two-run home run in the top of the first before the Husky offense revived themselves. The Huskies loaded the bases with nobody out and Jana Sanden sparked the UConn offense with a two-run double, knocking defending Big South Pitcher of the Week Georgeanna Barefoot out of the game. Olivia Sappington cleared the bases with a three-run home run to center field, plating Sanden and Garcia and making it a 5-2 game. Meghan O’Neil maintained that lead with several key strikeouts over multiple innings.
In the bottom of the third, Sami Barnett hit her first home run of the year to center field to make it a 6-2 game. The Huskies could have added more, but Reese Guevarra and Hollis Wivell were both caught stealing on the same play.
The Huskies added two more in the bottom of the fourth as Marcelino stole her eighth base of the season and crossed the plate before Sappington tacked on another run with a bases-loaded walk. Aziah James scored in the fifth after a throwing error and provided the game-ending hit as her bases-loaded single in the sixth enforced the mercy rule, this time resulting in a 10-2 UConn victory.
O’Neil pitched the first five innings, picking up the win behind two runs, eight hits, one walk and four strikeouts. Marcelino went 4-for-4 at the plate and scored twice.
The next two days involved tough battles against the No. 22 James Madison Dukes. The Dukes were the Cinderella team of last year’s NCAA Tournament, making it all the way to the College World Series Semifinals before bowing out to eventual champion Oklahoma.
UConn scored first on a throwing error, but the Dukes answered with two runs on a single and passed ball. The Dukes kept the offense going in the bottom of the second, as highlighted by a two-run home run from Emily Phillips. Down 6-1, UConn needed to respond.
After Lauren Bernett hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the third, Guevarra answered in the following frame, hitting her first home run of the season to cut the deficit to 7-2. Neither team could muster any offense until the top of the sixth inning when the Huskies howled back.
UConn scored on consecutive sacrifice plays, which then led to Sappington hitting her second home run of the weekend to make it a 7-5 game. But James Madison had other plans, as Hannah Shifflett and Hannah Hennessey pushed the lead back to four in the bottom of the sixth. James was picked off and Marcelino struck out looking in the top of the seventh as the Dukes took the 9-5 victory.
O’Neil went 2.1 innings, allowing seven runs, but Delaney Nagy kept the Huskies in the game by going 3.2 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
The Huskies had the opportunity to leave Charlotte with a .500 record Sunday morning. Both UConn and James Madison exchanged two-run home runs as Sanden and Hennessey went deep. Monmouth transfer Erika Coreth hit her first home run as a Husky in the bottom of the second to give UConn the 3-2 lead.
That lead did not last long, as Bernett delivered a go-ahead two-run single aided by a fielding error. Kayla Boseman highlighted the four-run frame with a two-run home run to left-center.
The Dukes plated three runs on a single and a two-run double in the top of the fifth, but the Huskies had something going in the bottom of the sixth. After getting three hits in three innings, the Huskies plated two runs with three consecutive hits, one of which was a two-run single by Coreth. Now down 9-5, the Huskies had a chance.
Shifflett hit a two-run home run in the top of the seventh, and the Huskies went down in order in the bottom half as James Madison swept the “series” against UConn 11-5. Alissa Humphrey went the distance for the Dukes, allowing five runs on eight hits with 12 strikeouts. Each Husky pitcher went 2.1 innings.
The Huskies (3-6) now prepare for the Cougar Classic in Charleston, South Carolina, which will occur from Friday, Feb. 25, to Sunday, Feb. 27. They will play against the College of Charleston, Appalachian State University and Western Carolina University.