UCA Softball Set to Begin Southland Conference Play

Courtesy University of Central Arkansas Athletics Departmet

The Central Arkansas softball team, off to a blistering 16-6 start to the season, will open Southland Conference play this weekend, playing host to Stephen F. Austin for three games.

The Bears, who are looking to make their first return trip to the SLC Tournament, are experiencing success both in the field and at the plate. Central Arkansas currently leads the conference in 13 offensive categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and home runs. They lead the league in scoring, averaging 7.6 runs per game. In the circle, Central Arkansas is fourth in the league in ERA, second in opponent batting average, and second in strikeouts. The Bears have also been solid in the field, making the fourth fewest errors in the Southland.

A big part of the offensive success this season can be attributed to the younger members of the team. The Bears currently have eight players hitting over .300. Four of those players are freshmen. “I felt like this was an outstanding recruiting class,” explained head coach David Kuhn. “But there was no way I could have predicted or expected this type of impact. It’s been great.”

Perhaps even more noticeable than the offensive success the Bears have achieved has been the performance of senior Kelsie Armstrong in the circle so far this season. She currently sits at 10-4 on the season, leading the Southland in wins and strikeouts. She ranks second in opponent batting average and third in ERA. Armstrong has gone the distance in 12 of her 13 starts this season, recording four one-hitters and throwing the second no-hitter of her career. “Kelsie is in the best shape of her life,” said Kuhn. “She has matured so much, both on and off the field, and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”

Not everything has been easy for the Bears this season though. After the first ten games on the schedule, Central Arkansas sat at 5-5 and was plagued by defensive uncertainty, committing 14 errors. That’s a part of the game that the Bears have managed to turn into a strong point, however. In the 12 games since, Central Arkansas has committed only six errors, taking off on an 11-1 run. Of the marked improvement on defense Kuhn said, “I can’t give an exact answer on what changed. We’ve focused on being more relaxed and having fun.”

The Central Arkansas schedule up to this point hasn’t been an easy one, including games against Ole Miss, Ball State, Valparaiso, and a South Alabama team that won two games in the NCAA Regionals last year. This is by design though. “We always want to schedule tough teams,” Kuhn explained. “That makes you better. It might expose weaknesses and it prepares you for a tough SLC grind. A weak schedule just gives you false hope.”

Central Arkansas will look to use the experience gained in playing such a schedule in the upcoming SLC slate. After failing to pick up a win in the SLC Tournament last year, the Bears are eager to prove that they are the team that went 36-20 in last year’s regular season, not the team that was 0-2 in the tournament. If they can continue to play every part of the game as well as they have been so far this year, that shouldn’t prove to be a false hope.


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