Softball team breaks records,
baseball team dedicates ballpark
Not many people would have envisioned a record-setting year after the softball team began the season 4-7. But the rough start didn’t shake Debbie Nichols- Hedrick’s confidence.
“We started off with a tough schedule against quality teams,” explained the seven-year head coach. “We played them close, which gave the team the confidence they needed to realize that they could compete.”
From that point forward, the team did more than compete—it won. The Lady Mavericks posted 41 victories, took the Southland Conference championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament.
UTA won its first 10 conference games and rolled to a 23-4 league record in capturing its first regular-season conference title. Still, the Lady Mavericks had to win the conference tournament at Natchitoches, La., to be assured of their first bid to an NCAA regional. They accomplished that with four straight wins.
Pitcher Katy Cox, the tournament’s most valuable player, notched all four victories and was joined on the all-tournament team by outfielders Autumn Petrino and Melanie Williams and designated player Beverly Rowan.
In the NCAA regional in Gainesville, Fla., seventh-seeded UTA upended second seed Florida State, 1-0, and then blanked third seed and tournament host Florida, 2-0. But top-seeded Oklahoma sidetracked the Lady Mavs, 6-2, and the season ended with a 2-0 loss to sixth-seeded Oregon State.
UTA finished 41-17, setting a school record for victories. Cox, who compiled a 29-7 record with two no-hitters, was named to the regional all-tournament team along with Williams, who finished as the team’s leading hitter with a .400 average.
While the softball team was enjoying a record-setting season, the UTA baseball team overcame early challenges to win 37 games.
Delays in renovating Clay Gould Ballpark forced the Mavericks to play their early-season games either on the road or at neutral sites. The team was 12-12 before playing its first home game.
“It was extremely difficult playing the first 24 games on the road,” head coach Jeff Curtis said. “We started playing well the same time our field was available for our home games. It just so happened that it was the same time the conference season started.”
The Mavericks bolted to a 13-2 league start and improved their overall mark to 30-19 entering the final two weekends of league play. Then Sam Houston State and Lamar both won two out of three games, relegating the Mavs to third place in the regular-season standings.
UTA could have secured an automatic NCAA Tournament berth by winning the conference tournament in Monroe, La., but McNeese State eliminated the Mavericks in the title game.
Selection officials denied UTA an at-large bid to the 64-team NCAA Tournament despite the team’s No. 42 ranking in the RPI (ratings percentage index). It remained a memorable season, though, as the Mavs finished 37-25 and dedicated Clay Gould Ballpark in April.
– Jim Patterson