As the regular season drew to a close with a 9-6 loss to Marshall University on Sunday, a few members of the softball team gathered around phones to watch Louisiana Tech University’s game play out.
North Texas (32-14, 17-7 Conference USA) entered the regular season finale tied with the Lady Techsters (38-18, 18-6 C-USA). The Mean Green needed to tie or win with a Louisiana Tech loss to capture their third C-USA regular season title in a row. Going into the seventh inning of Sunday’s contest, North Texas held a 5-4 lead with the results in Ruston, Louisiana, looking increasingly favorable.
A five-run top of the seventh inning for the Thundering Herd (33-16, 15-9 C-USA) made way for Marshall closing out the game in the bottom half. Soon after the final out of the Mean Green’s game, a five-run bottom of the seventh for Louisiana Tech capped by a triple off the bat of redshirt sophomore Katelin Cooper clinched the regular season title and No. 1 seed in the C-USA tournament for the Lady Techsters.
In a tie-breaker situation with Western Kentucky University (35-11, 17-7 C-USA), North Texas was awarded the two-seed via a common opponent, as the Mean Green won their season series with Florida Atlantic University (28-24, 15-9 C-USA) while the Hilltoppers dropped theirs. With the No. 2 seed, North Texas gets a double-bye in the conference tournament.
“I think we earned [the two-seed],” head coach Rodney DeLong said. “I mean, [Louisiana] Tech didn’t play Marshall and they didn’t play Charlotte. […] We played all those good teams from the East.”
North Texas’ pitching staff has been a point of conversation throughout the season after the team was narrowed down to using two pitchers for a majority of the campaign. One of those two pitchers, junior left-handed pitcher Ashley Peters, exited her start Sunday with a knee injury after two innings pitched. DeLong provided an update on Peters’ status Friday night, saying he had “good news of Ashley [Peters]” and she would be “good to go.”
“The three [games] were tough on her and I don’t know what happened, what was tweaked,” DeLong said. “She was in a lot of pain Sunday and we wanted to be cautionary.”
Thursday’s game will be the first postseason tournament experience for a number of Mean Green players. Among them is redshirt sophomore outfielder Molly Rainey, who missed out on the tournament her first year due to the pandemic-shortened season and last year because of a broken wrist. Getting her first taste of postseason play is something Rainey said is a “dream come true.”
“I’ve never been able to experience [postseason play] in a playing sense,” Rainey said. “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, so actually getting to compete and do it this year is really exciting for me.”
Freshman outfielder Syndey Ingle is competing in the tournament in her first season of collegiate softball. The freshman has started in 20 games for North Texas throughout the campaign.
“I think more than anything I’m just excited,” Ingle said. “ I don’t really know what to expect. I’m just being super open-minded. […] We have a lot to prove.”
The Mean Green will play the winner of the first round matchup between Western Kentucky and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (34-21, 12-12 C-USA) at noon on Thursday.
“We have to play good, there’s six-to-seven teams in this thing that are all solid programs,” DeLong said. “Just going to come down to who plays well this weekend more than anything.”
Featured Image: Junior pitcher Ashley Peters winds up to pitch at Lovelace Stadium on April 3, 2022. Photo by John Fields.