Diamond Blossoms suffer first two losses of season

Fighting the weather—again—is not something University of Arkansas at Monticello softball coach Alvy Early said he finds particularly appealing. But this time of year in the South, that comes with the territory.

Only a season after losing 10 Great American Conference games to the rain, the Cotton Blossoms were supposed to play in the Southeastern Regional Invitational in Durant, Okla. Ice and snow halted those plans last Tuesday, so Early got together with some fellow coaches and “threw together” a “Hurry Up” Classic on Wednesday afternoon.

UAM was to face the University of Central Missouri, Lincoln (Mo.) University, Missouri Western State University and Cameron (Okla.) University on Friday through Sunday in Arkadelphia. The same ice and snow storm allowed only two of those games to be played—and Early said he would have just as soon not played either.

Central Missouri handed UAM its first loss of 2014 in a 7-3 setback on Friday, and Lincoln dropped the Blossoms to .500 in a 4-3 loss on Sunday. Both Saturday games had to be canceled because of snow and ice.

Early is hoping for some better weather this weekend as UAM hosts its annual Classic at  Bentonville. Twenty-nine teams from eight states will gather to play softball at both Bentonville High School’s Tiger Athletic Complex and the city’s Memorial Park. The Blossoms take on William Jewell (Mo.) College and the University of Nebraska at Kearney on Friday. The UAM-William Jewell game is set for at 11:30 a.m.  while the UAM-Kearney game is slated for 1:30 p.m.

Saturday, the Blossoms are scheduled to face Upper Iowa University at 11:30 a.m. and Sunday, UAM faces Fort Hays State University at 11:30 a.m. and Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University at 1:30 p.m. All UAM games are to be played at the high school.

Weather permitting, Early will keep the Blossoms in Bentonville an extra day to play the University of Minnesota at Duluth—another Classic participant—in a doubleheader Monday beginning at noon. That twinbill is not a part of the Classic.

“It wasn’t a very good weekend,” Early said of the games in Arkadelphia. “Friday against UCM, we started the game with a HBP—and we also hit another batter on an 0-2 count.

“We just weren’t in sync. We need better pitching performances, and we have to become productive at the plate. In our first four games, we have left 32 runners on base. Uncharacteristically, we have committed nine errors in those four games. 

“Sunday, we left bases loaded in first inning against Lincoln, missing an opportunity to take control of the game then. We’re not striking out. We’re hitting balls pretty solid that opponents are making plays on. It’s still early in the season and I believe we’ll improve as we go along. We’ll be competitive throughout the GAC season.”

Friday, the Jennies jumped out to an early lead with three runs in the top of the first inning, highlighted by a solo home run off the bat of Jakki Prater and an RBI double by Lauren Mabe. UCM added two more runs in the fifth, taking advantage of a UAM fielding error and an RBI double from Emily King.

The Blossoms benefited from a UCM fielding error in the sixth to score all three runs they scored. Sophomore Kali Piha led off the inning with a double to left field and was driven in on a single from senior Beth Johnson in the next at-bat. Johnson later scored on an error by the UCM second baseman.

UAM’s final run in the inning came from junior Lacy Blanchard, who walked and later scored on a bases-loaded walk by senior Channing Tharpe. UCM finalized the scoring with a two-run home run in the top of the seventh by Prater, her second round-tripper of the contest.

Junior Katie Slaughter took the loss in the circle for UAM after giving up three runs (two earned) off four hits with one strikeout and no walks in the first 2.2 innings. In addition to going 2-for-4 with three runs batted in, UCM’s Prater also earned the pitching win after giving up three runs (one earned) off six hits with one strikeout and two walks in the first 5.1 innings.

Sunday, the Blossoms struck first and scored all three of their runs in the bottom of the second inning on a two-run double from Piha, who was driven in on an RBI single from Johnson in the next at-bat.

Lincoln quickly answered and tied the game in the top of the third on a three-run home run by Sara Kircher. The Blue Tigers scored their go-ahead run in top of the fifth, taking advantage of a UAM fielding error following a single to right field by Shantae Duren.

Senior Courtney Wilson took the pitching loss in complete-game fashion, allowing four runs (three earned) off nine hits with eight strikeouts and four walks. Lincoln hurler Alyssa Ludwig also went the distance and picked up the win after allowing three runs off five hits with one strikeout and four walks.

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