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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Softball

UH softball veterans playing ‘vital role’ in team’s success


UH softball redshirt senior outfielder Lindsey Stewart-Vaughn makes contact with the ball during a late evening contest in the 2021 season. | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH softball redshirt senior outfielder Lindsey Stewart-Vaughn makes contact with the ball during a late evening contest in the 2021 season. | Courtesy of UH athletics

It was the third inning of a game against No. 7 Oklahoma State. The Houston softball team had only one hit and trailed by two runs, and after two quick outs to start, it wasn’t looking promising when redshirt senior outfielder Lindsey Stewart-Vaughn stepped up to the plate for the Cougars.

The OSU game was UH’s third in the Oklahoma Classic Hall of Fame weekend tournament, and the team was in danger of being swept right out of Oklahoma after losing both games in the previous day’s doubleheader.

In addition to the losses, the team was staring down the barrel of an eight-game losing streak that had been plagued with first-inning issues that always had the team playing from behind, and an inconsistent offense that was averaging one run per game during the streak.

Then, when it needed it most, senior leadership came through for the UH softball team.

Vaughn sparked the two-out rally with her second hit of the game when she singled her way on base. Followed by a walk, the stage was set for redshirt senior infielder Sarah Queen.

Queen uncorked her team-leading seventh home run of the year when she launched a three-run shot to left-center to give her team the lead, providing all of UH’s offense after she singled in another run in the fifth inning to give them the win 4-2.

UH’s biggest win of the year showed that as the Cougars’ veterans go, so does the team.

Veteran reliance

With both of them placed near the top of every UH softball offensive category, tenured players like Vaughn and Queen are staples in head coach Kristin Vesely’s offense, bearing most of the responsibility to manufacture runs.

“They play such a vital role in our team’s success,” Vesely said. “Sometimes to the point where it might not be fair, but they have the pressure and they’re carrying the load, and I think them taking ownership of that kind of stables out the ship. It allows an opportunity for the younger kids to have that development time and get some in-game experience.”

Experience is an invaluable trait for a team that has struggled to find consistency all year. Although UH had its first win over a top 10 ranked team since defeating No. 5 Texas A&M in March 2017, it came off the heels of a seven-game losing streak that saw the Cougars’ pitching give up an average of three runs in every first inning.

The win marked the team’s eighth win on the year, a feat that was achieved last year within its first twelve games. The losing streak alone equaled the overall amount of losses it had last year before the season’s cancellation and is the longest such streak in the Vesely era.

For Vaughn, the grind of the season has provided an opportunity for her and her younger teammates to gel during this time of adversity.

Adapting to the team

“I feel like we’ve gotten a lot better at understanding each other and playing together,” Vaughn said.

For the Cougars this season, they have had to learn to adjust to having a unit with many different identities. While at times it may be difficult, the UH softball team sees it as a benefit.

“One of the greatest blessings we have is that we have a super unique team and a lot of different personalities, and trying to manage those personalities is the fun part,” Vesely said. “I think they’re starting to get to know who they are as a team and respect each other as individuals.”

If nothing else, the rough start provides a good measurement for UH to know where it stands amongst its peers, playing ranked teams like Oklahoma State, Texas, Mississippi State and No. 1 Oklahoma.

Vaughn cites her mental growth while playing under Vesely a trait that has been vital during the tough opening stretch. As one of the leaders on the team, she knows her impact is about more than how well she swings the bat.

“I try to think about the bigger picture, rather than what just happened or what could have happened. I think about what’s happening now more than the past,” Vaughn said. “(I) make sure I make all my plays. I go 100 percent just trying to be there, do whatever I can to help us.”

While mental fortitude is not something that can show up on a stats sheet or gives a team bonus points at the end of the season, it is something the Cougars feel is necessary when tasked with a tough challenge.

Even though the UH softball team has already been put through a gauntlet, the road isn’t going to let up as matchups against American Athletic Conference foes begin.

Regardless of the challenges, the Cougars believe their mindset is what is crucial to getting the results they ultimately want.

“Leadership doesn’t change depending on circumstances,” Vesely said.

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