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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Softball

Softball rallying before crucial road trip


Junior Lindsey Stewart has used her speed and batting to get herself into scoring position over the last few games. Houston will need more strong offense to chase the conference championship. | Andres Chio/The Cougar

The Cougars softball team is in the final stretch of its season and is sitting at .500 in the American Athletic Conference after starting to rally back in the conference.

Houston started the season strong, then faltered a bit during a long stretch of mostly road games, but it is now firing back toward the top of the AAC.

Houston played the other three teams projected to finish in the top four along with UH to start its conference season and came out with a 3-6 record.

It was a tough start but also a great way to learn, said head coach Kristin Vesely.

“It’s been brutal,” Vesely said.”We got to see some of our mental toughness come out and gotten to see some things that we need to work on, but it was good to test us early so we can finish the season strong.”

The Cougars started the season with 22 of their first 23 games at home and then went on the road for 10 games, including its conference opening series at Wichita State, who was voted to finish second in the AAC.

UH was voted third.

It did not get much easier with the home series against preseason favorite USF, followed by the team going on the road to face Tulsa, the 2018 AAC champion.

“It’s our hardest year in our conference because we have some of the toughest opponents on the road, but it’s good for us to be challenged, and that’s why we scheduled so many home games early, so we weren’t on the road the entire year,” Vesely said.

With the toughest part of the conference behind them, the Cougars took down the Huskies 3-0 and have Memphis and UCF on the road before the end of their conference schedule against ECU at home.

A key piece down the stretch could be freshman Rachel Hertenberger, who is the newest of the Cougars’ four pitchers.

Last season, the Cougars had just three pitchers, and having a fourth has opened up options for the team. Houston can now swap out pitchers a bit more to rest players and keep opponents from facing the same pitcher more than a couple times in a game.

Vesely called Hertenberger’s seventh inning one-run performance Sunday phenomenal and what the team needs to see in the next few weeks.

“I loved the way she attacked the zone. Her changeup was on and she could throw the strike on any count, and when she is doing that, as well as moving her pitches, she is going to be very successful, and it is much needed toward the second half of this year,” Vesely said.

Hertenberger had the chance to play quickly, and her performances have been steadily improving against tougher opponents.

As of writing, Houston’s pitching roster has a combined 1.96 ERA led by seniors Presley Bell and Savannah Heebner. Bell has a 1.16 ERA over 72.2 inning, and Heebner has a 1.76 across 115.2 innings.

With the elite pitching, Houston’s offense has been able to have some quiet performances, but that will be one area to improve in before the conference tournament begins and it potentially faces the other top foes again.

USF swept UH 4-2, 3-0 and 3-0, and Houston cannot afford another weekend like that if it wants to snag a top seed in the AAC Tournament.

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