Softball team starts season fast and looks to continue momentum

by Staff Writer Kadin Pounders

Right now, the softball team is hot, and it does not look like they are slowing down soon.

It is relatively early in the season, but the team that was picked to finish fourth in the Gulf South Conference is 10-1 (3-0) and sitting in second place with the best winning percentage in the conference.

The Lions started off the season on a seven-game winning streak. UNA is not only playing up to the competition but dominating it, too.

“We have played a pretty tough schedule,” said head coach Ashley Cozart. “We beat the No. 21-ranked team (University of Indianapolis) 16-3, we beat the No. 5-ranked team Wayne State 9-1 and we beat Bellarmine who was receiving votes 9-1, We played West Florida at their place and (swept them), and they were picked to finish fifth in the conference. So overall, we have played good competition.”

The Lions have been clicking on all cylinders, both offensively and defensively. UNA has six players batting over .320 and the overall team batting average is .310.

“I think we are seeing the ball really well right now, and we all have a lot of confidence stepping into the batter’s box,” said junior first baseman Brooklynn Clark. “We get the big hits when we need them. This team is really talented, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season has in store for us.”

Clark is one of six batting over .320 but also leads the team with two home runs. Senior catcher Brittany Gillison leads the team in RBIs with 14, followed by senior right fielder Libby Olinger with 11.

“Libby Olinger and Brittany Gillison have really gotten some big hits for us and lead the team in many offensive categories,” Cozart said. “Brooklynn Clark is a mid-year transfer who I knew was good, and she has stepped in right away and made our team better. She brings so much offensively but also defensively. She is one of the best first basemen I’ve ever coached.”

Sophomore pitcher Hillary Carpenter and senior pitcher Bree Blevins are dominating on the mound as well, Cozart said.

“Bree and Hillary just have the experience right now and are throwing well for us,” she said. “(Carpenter) and (Blevins) are two pitchers that give us a shot to win any game.”

Carpenter is 5-0 in five games started, and has a 0.72 ERA. Carpenter has also thrown two shutouts. Blevins has a 5-1 record in six games started with a 1.36 ERA. Blevins also has two shutouts to her credit.

The Lions have given up 15 runs this season, the lowest in the GSC.

Going forward, Cozart is going with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” strategy, she said.

“We have a great routine going right now, and we’re not going to change that,” she said. “The biggest thing right now is we can’t settle and be content with what we’ve done.”

For a team that admitted preseason issues with communication on the field, confidence and team chemistry has been a huge contributor to the team’s early success, Clark said.

“We go into each game with the mindset that we are going to come out on top,” she said. “We have really good team chemistry and are really confident in ourselves and each other.”

With the success that this team has had so far, it is no wonder that expectations for this season have only gone up.

“I think this team just gets it. They have a fire inside of them and a group of seniors who want to go out strong,” Cozart said. “Every day they work hard and bring their best. This team is special and I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to have.”

Clark said she believes this team has the opportunity to have a special season.

“We’re just an all-around talented team and that’s a good thing to have,” Clark said. “We’re going to take each game one step at a time and if we do that then I have no doubt in my mind we will be (on top of) our conference.”