WKU falls to no. 1 seed North Texas 4-1, enters consolation bracket

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU Softball was defeated by the no. 1 seed North Texas Mean Green by a score of 4-1 in the Hilltoppers’ second round of action in the 2021 Conference USA Softball Championship. WKU will play the loser of Charlotte-UAB in an elimination game on Friday at 2:30 p.m. CT. Update: WKU will play Charlotte as the 49ers lost 5-2 to the Blazers later in the day.

Senior Hope Trautwein started for North Texas. Trautwein threw two 21-strikeout games throughout 2021, one of which was a perfect game. The senior tossed a complete seven innings, the first four of them hitless, and collected nine strikeouts. Redshirt junior Shelby Nunn started for the Hilltoppers but only pitched for one-third of an inning. 

“I think we took ourselves out of our at-bats,” Redshirt senior Paige Carter said after the game. “She [Trautwein] is a very good pitcher and has great rising ball spin and curveball spin, but I think we contemplated our swings today, we took too many pitches that we should have been crushing… I do give her credit, she is a very good pitcher but we beat ourselves today even more.”

Paige Carter drew a leadoff walk to start the game, but was left stranded after three straight fly-outs. North Texas scored first in the bottom of the inning after Nunn walked in a run, the third base-on-balls of her appearance. 

Redshirt freshman Katie Gardner was then sent in for her second relief appearance in as many days, taking over a bases-loaded, one-out jam. Gardner walked the second batter she faced to give UNT a 2-0 lead, but WKU redshirt freshman Taylor Sanders snagged a line drive and tagged third base to put an end to the inning.

The Hilltoppers were retired in order in the top of the second. North Texas extended its lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run from freshman Lexi Cobb. Gardner bounced back from the home run to end the inning with her first strikeout. 

Trautwein struck out the side to open the third inning, pushing her strikeout total to five. The Mean Green were retired in order as well in the bottom of the frame and Gardner collected her second strikeout.

The Hilltoppers went down in order for the third time in a row in the top of the fourth. North Texas freshman Ashlyn Walker led off the bottom of the inning with a single but the Mean Green failed to score. 

Redshirt sophomore Princess Valencia laced a one-out single into left field in the top of the fifth to give the Hilltoppers their first hit of the game. Valencia ended up stranded when Trautwein ended the frame with back-to-back strikeouts to push her total to eight. 

“Before that [at-bat] I had talked to TJ [Webster] and Paige [Carter], and they were motivating me and giving me the confidence that I needed,” Valencia said about her hit after the game. “Hope [Trautwein] for North Texas is a really good pitcher but we have really good pitchers on our staff and I face them all the time at practice. I think I was really just trying to build off that confidence.”

Gardner surrendered a one-out walk in the bottom of the inning but her third strikeout of the day and a fly-out sent the game to the sixth. 

Paige Carter ripped a one-out solo home run down the left field line in the top of the sixth to put the Hilltoppers on the board and set the score to 3-1. It was Carters’ 12th home run of the year. 

“I just got jammed on the inside and they ended up missing the pop-up,” Carter said about her approach to the at-bat. “I was like, alright, this is my chance to recover from their mistakes. I moved up in the box, I really tried to take away the curveball spin… I wasn’t going for a home run or anything, I was just trying to get on base.”

North Texas responded with a solo home run of its own from Ashlyn Walker in the bottom half of the inning to extend its lead to 4-1.

The Hilltoppers failed to rally in the top of the seventh, securing the complete-game two-hitter for Trautwein. WKU will play the loser of Charlotte-UAB on Friday at 2:30 p.m. CT. The Hilltoppers are familiar with both the 49ers and Blazers as they compiled a 5-2 record against both squads in the regular season. Update: WKU will play Charlotte as the 49ers lost 5-2 to the Blazers later in the day.

“I think tomorrow we’re gonna come back with more confidence in our abilities knowing we can hit good pitching,” Valencia said after the game. “We’re coming in ready for a dogfight, we’re gonna do everything we can to get these wins.”

“We’re gonna watch the [UAB-Charlotte] game tonight and take notes of what they’re doing… we’re also going to go back and look at the game film that we’ve had,” Carter said when asked how the Hilltoppers will prepare for their next game. “I think it’s an advantage that we played both [teams] this year and we get to learn from our mistakes.”

Sports Editor Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.