North Texas Begins Second Half Of C-USA Play At Southern Miss
Mean Green Look To Climb Conference USA Standings
DENTON -- The North Texas softball team begins the second half of its Conference USA slate this weekend, traveling to Southern Miss for a three-game series, beginning with a doubleheader on Saturday. Saturday's doubleheader begins at 1 p.m., while the Sunday series finale is set for a first pitch of 1 p.m.
The Mean Green (20-20, 3-9 C-USA) are coming off a 2-4 nonconference stretch, highlighted by a 1-0 walk-off win over UT Arlington in eight innings and a 10-2 run-rule win over Georgia Tech in five innings at the Kansas Round Robin. The stretch also included a 6-1 loss to nationally-ranked No. 9 Oklahoma this past Wednesday.
"Having that stretch of nonconference games allowed us the opportunity to step out of conference and really focus on ourselves and really challenge ourselves with the opponents that we played," head coach Tracey Kee said. "I saw a lot of positives. Hopefully, it will pay off that we were tested and challenged and really had to compete."
Southern Miss (20-23, 7-8 C-USA) has won each of its last two leagues series over WKU and UTSA and they enter the weekend coming off a 7-1 loss to No. 4 Alabama this past Tuesday. Southern Miss is also the first of four Conference USA Western Division opponents that North Texas will face down the stretch with remaining home series against Louisiana Tech and UAB and a final road series against UTEP.
The Golden Eagles are hitting .271 as a team, led by junior Tori Dew, who leads the team with a .355 batting average and .480 on-base percentage, and fellow junior Lauren Holifield, who's hitting .295 with a team-leading eight home runs, 28 RBI and .557 slugging percentage. Their pitching staff holds a 4.13 earned run average, led by sophomore Samantha Robles, who enters the weekend with a 12-7 record and 3.25 earned run average.
"They're a team playing with a lot of confidence right now," Kee said. "They're very good at home. We have a big challenge in front of us, but it's one that our kids will be prepared for."
North Texas has won just one of its first four conference series, taking two of three on the road at WKU, handing the defending regular season and tournament champions their first Conference USA series loss since joining the league for the 2015 season. The Mean Green enter the weekend in last place in the league standings, 2.5 games back of FIU and Southern Miss, which are currently in a tie for seventh place and would be the final two teams in the Conference USA Tournament if the season ended today.
"Our kids understand the sense of urgency that they have to play with and they understand that our backs are against the wall, but you don't want to keep reminiscing and talking about it because all that does it add pressure," Kee said. "For this young group, that's something that they wouldn't be able to handle, so hopefully they go out there, stay relaxed and play the game that they're capable of, and if they do that, positive things will happen."