SOFTBALL: Split decision

Wes Watt

After starting the season 16-3, the Western softball team went into last night’s game with Kentucky hoping to duplicate the play that produced that sparkling record.

But the Hilltoppers have been anything but sparkling lately. In their last 10 games they’ve won just three and have an 8-12 record since midway through the season.

And the chance to beat Kentucky would help spark team morale. But the Hilltoppers woke up this morning no better than they started Wednesday.

Western split the doubleheader in front of the largest crowd of the season at 217. The split featured a 5-2 loss and a rebound with a great offensive performance to get out a 4-3 win.

Senior catcher Riley Garcia led the Hilltoppers in both games offensively. Garcia went 3-for-4 in the first game and 3-for-3 in the second.

“It was nice to come out swinging the bat really well,” Garcia said, “especially with the big weekend coming up.”

The Hilltopper offense had some problems over the last month not being able to connect its bats to the ball. But the offense is improving because of the focus in practice.

“We made some adjustments in practice and we need to continue to work on that.” coach Leslie Phelan said.

Western (24-15) was able to out hit the Wildcats (22-24-1), but only able to leave the series 1-1. Mental errors caused the Hilltoppers some missed opportunities in both games. And Phelan wasn’t happy about it.

“I’m not happy with the way we played from the shoulders up,” Phelan said. “Our heads were not there. We were fortunate to out hit them in both games.”

The mental errors might have contributed to the team’s skid of late. Base runners have been thrown out off of fly balls and players have run into one another trying to make plays in the field.

The offense has picked up recently, though. After busting out 15 hits in its last doubleheader, Western was able to get 18 hits off the Wildcat pitchers. But several scoring opportunities were wasted as Topper hitters consistently left runners on base.

“We need to work on our mental game and focus on the entire game,” Garcia said. “We just got to get over the hump. Conference just started, it’s a whole new ball game.”

Mental errors will be something that the Hilltoppers have to address and address quickly with the team’s next conference series beginning Saturday at New Mexico State.

Western opened SBC play last weekend against Middle Tennessee State, where it finished 1-3 against the Lady Raiders.

The losses put Western in fourth place, behind Florida International, No. 8 Louisiana-Lafayette and MTSU.

Although the conference season is just beginning, Western has some urgency to rebound after the losses in the opening weekend of the SBC.

“We need to redeem ourselves in the Sun Belt Conference,” Phelan said. “I’m hoping we will come out and play, and play the way we are

capable.”

Reach Wes Watt at [email protected]