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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Softball

Cougars softball team trying to claim first AAC title


Savannah Heebner has played in 38 games this season and has a 24-8 record. Heebner is also batting .330, making her one of the Cougars’ biggest threats. Thomas Dwyer / The Cougar

After 54 games, the Cougars softball team has wrapped up the regular season and set its sights on the American Athletic Conference Championship Tournament.

USF is hosting the tournament in Tampa, and it will take place over three days from May 10 to May 12 in one game, single elimination format.

Last season, Houston entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed and made it to the final before falling to Tulsa in a close game.

Houston enters the tournament at No. 2 again and will start the tournament against No. 7 ECU in the first round.

Earlier this season, Houston lost the first game of the series against ECU 2-3 in extra innings but took the next two games in a dominating fashion to win the series.

But that was early in the season. Now, the Cougars are firing on all cylinders as the road to the NCAA tournament begins.

Ace pitching, balanced batting

The Cougars boast a trio of pitchers that have proven they can perform against any team in the country.

Junior Savannah Heebner, an All-American hopeful, has been dominant this season. Heebner is in the Top 15 in the nation with a 1.07 ERA and 24 wins, as well as tied for first in the nation in shutouts.

Heebner has struck out nearly as many batters — 140 — as she has allowed to get a hit — 153 — in 210 innings pitched.

Junior Presley Bell and sophomore Trystan Melancon have thrown a combined 175 innings while winning another 11 games.

It does not matter how good a team’s pitching is if it cannot score runs. Luckily for the Cougars, their well-rounded roster is built to score runs. Led by sophomore Sarah Queen, who is fourth in the AAC in batting average, the Cougars have three hitters who maintain a batting average of at least .300.

In addition to leading the team in batting average, Queen sets the standard in power and clutch hitting by leading the team in home runs and RBIs.

Queen is not a one-woman show, however, as there are seven other players on the team who have double-digit RBIs this season.

Those eight players have combined to drive in 80 percent of the team’s runs this season, and three different hitters have won Player of the Week awards this season.

Final outlook

As talented as the Cougars’ roster is, the biggest issue this season has been its consistency, or lack thereof.

The Cougars have 31 games this season in which they have scored four runs or fewer and 23 games in which they have scored five runs or more. They are 13-18 when scoring four or less runs but become virtually unbeatable at 22-1 when they score at least five runs.

The two biggest threats to Houston are the USF Bulls and the Wichita State Shockers.

Houston lost the series against UCF 1-2 while taking two games off of Wichita State to win the series 2-1.

Against both teams, the Cougars averaged five runs a game while allowing less than four runs per game. The only problem was consistency, as the high-scoring nights did not sync up with the good pitching nights.

Another positive for the Cougars is they’ve made their away and neutral records both positive, and they are one of just three teams in the conference to do so.

Houston will need to be at its best to defeat three teams in three days, claim the conference title and aim their sights on the NCAA tournament.

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