UCA softball team struggles through first five matchups

A yellow softball is shown in a glove on a field in this April 5, 2019 file photo. (AP/Aaron M. Sprecher)
A yellow softball is shown in a glove on a field in this April 5, 2019 file photo. (AP/Aaron M. Sprecher)

The University of Central Arkansas opened its softball season this past weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla., dropping four of its five games. The Bears (1-4) opened with narrow defeats to Notre Dame and North Carolina Central before they picked up a 4-1 win Saturday afternoon over St. Johns.

With just three returning starters, UCA used five different lineups and 12 players received at least one at-bat.

Here are three takeaways from the Bears' opening weekend:

Highs and lows

The standout offensive performance for UCA, other than the typical play of third baseman Kylie Griffin, was from University of Texas-San Antonio transfer Lilly Hood. The sophomore from White Hall tied Griffin for a team-high five hits for a .417 batting average. She led the team with seven total bases, thanks to the team's lone triple, five RBI and two runs.

Hood hit eighth in all five games for the Bears, but should see herself further up the lineup if she continues hitting.

At UTSA and in high school, Hood was primarily an outfielder. But this past weekend, she deputized at shortstop with the short-term absence of McKayla Betts and the season-long absence of All-ASUN shortstop Madi Young.

In five games, Hood made three errors. She's unlikely to stick at the position long-term. Instead, she'll likely compete for a spot back in the outfield once Betts returns.

Circle up

Coming into the weekend, Northwest Florida State College transfer Julia Petty and Oklahoma State transfer Bailie Runner were slated to lead an entirely retooled pitching staff, and that's exactly what happened.

Runner started three games, holding South Alabama, Notre Dame and St. Johns to 7 runs (5 earned) in 21 innings for a 1.67 ERA. The junior right-hander struck out 7 batters, allowed 3 extra-base hits and hit 4 batters. Opponents hit .277 against her.

Petty pitched the late games on Friday and Saturday against North Carolina Central and Kansas. Against the former, she allowed 2 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings before junior Kassie Rhodes came in for relief.

Against Kansas, Petty's time didn't get any easier, allowing nine earned runs in 5 2/3 innings of a run-rule victory for the Jayhawks.

Petty ended her weekend with a 9.63 ERA over 8 innings, allowing 11 earned runs on 8 walks and 15 hits. Opposing batters hit .417 against her.

Rhode was the lone reliever used by UCA Coach Jenny Parsons. She held North Carolina Central to one run over 5 2/3 innings.

Finding roles

UCA Coach Jenny Parsons was without a starting catcher this spring when last season's starter, Josie Willingham, didn't return after graduating in December.

Parsons was down to two options in the squat -- Houston transfer Emma Robertson and Grayson College (Texas) transfer Kennedy Fisher.

Through UCA's first five games, Fisher caught every inning, while Robertson featured as the designated player.

Robertson struggled in her action with the Bears, batting .083 with 1 hit in 12 at-bats. But Parsons clearly thinks highly of the potential for Robertson in that spot as she hit in the heart of the order in all five games.

While most of UCA's lineup had a quiet weekend offensively, Fisher was a pleasant surprise for the Bears. The junior totaled three hits, tied for the third-most, for a .250 batting average out of the ninth spot in the order.

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UCA softball results

FRIDAY Notre Dame, L, 3-0; North Carolina Central, L, 4-3

SATURDAY St. Johns, W, 4-1;Kansas, L, 9-1

SUNDAY South Alabama, L, 3-2