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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Softball

Houston Invitational welcomes top teams for challenging weekend


Senior Maya Thomas will be starting for a fourth year and is expected to be a big contributor. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

After a disappointing loss in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional ended their 2018 season, the Cougars are looking to start the new year off right in the team’s five-game opening weekend at the Houston Invitational.

Houston will host a doubleheader against Kentucky and Oklahoma State to kick off the invitational Friday afternoon.

The Wildcats are coming off a historic season for its program as head coach Rachel Lawson led her team to its sixth NCAA Super Regional in eight years, and the team was just one win short of a berth in the Women’s College World Series.

UK will be returning seven starters from last season, including All-SEC sophomore pitcher Grace Baalman, whom UH should be wary of.

Kentucky is heading into the matchup placed No. 13 in the NCAA’s rankings, which Houston, although unranked, also received votes in.

OSU has found its way to No. 22 in the rankings before its game with UH and is also coming off a letdown in the NCAA Regionals last season.

Two Cowgirl standouts happen to be coming back home when they travel down to the Lone Star State.

Seniors Taylor Lynch from Red Oak and infielder Madi Sue Montgomery of Burleson were both named All-Big 12 performers last season, and both could prove challenging for UH.

The Cougars and the Wildcats will meet again in the first game of Saturday afternoon’s doubleheader where Houston will also face Illinois.

Although Illinois was not ranked and did not go beyond the Big 10 Conference Tournament in the 2018 postseason, it had a very similar record to the Cougars.

Both teams ended the year with 37 wins under their belts, but Houston tallied 22 losses to Illinois’s 18.

On the final day of the invitational, Houston will challenge a familiar in-state opponent, Sam Houston State.

Halfway through last season, the Cougars marched 70 miles north to Huntsville, confident it would get two easy wins against the 11–18 Bearkats.

But SHSU gave UH a run for its money, lighting up the team’s defense for 11 runs in the second game of the two’s doubleheader in a losing effort.

Houston eventually won the game in a 13–11 extra-innings thriller but learned not to count out any of the teams it plays.

Even if Houston does not win, head coach Kristin Vesely said she wants to see her team compete and bounce back from any adversity.

The Cougars are set to have a loaded and tough weekend against some of the best teams the sport has to offer, but with five All-AAC players returning, the team is hopeful that it can succeed.

The first game against Kentucky is at 3:30 p.m. Friday, and the second against Oklahoma State is at 6 p.m.

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