The infield is smooth, the grass is freshly cut, and the weather is taking a turn for the better. Spring is on the way, and the Ram softball team is all set to begin Mountain West Conference play this weekend.
The Rams (21-18) will host the New Mexico Lobos (10-13) in a two-day, two-game series starting on Saturday at Ram Field. Game times are set for 1 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday.
The home stand will be the first for the Rams in more than a month, ending what has effectively been an 18-game road trip. Head Coach Mary Yori said the games will be a welcome break from the challenges that the road presents.
“It will be really nice, having two home weekends in a row,” Yori said. “It is absolutely a going to be a good refresher for our team.”
CSU was picked in the preseason coaches polls to finish in fifth place in the Mountain West, one spot ahead of the Lobos. In terms of non-conference wins thus far this season, the Rams are currently sitting in third place.
The Rams have a very young team this year, with ten freshmen and two sophomores making up the bulk of the roster. Coach Yori said that despite the relative lack of experience her players have, the team is starting to come together and play above their age.
“We are growing well as a team,” Yori said. “We start five to six freshmen every game, which is not typically what you want, but they are starting to play like veterans.”
CSU also has been benefiting from the strong leadership of the few upperclassmen on the team.
Senior pitcher/designated player Jessica Strickland is statistically one of the most productive hitters in the program’s history. She is currently second on the all-time lists in doubles and third all-time in home runs. Last year Strickland was ranked 24th nationally in batting average, hitting at a .415 mark.
Senior outfielder Brittany Huerta is also a major contributor to the team’s already impressive power. Huerta has hit nine home runs so far this season and is just three homers shy of taking sole possession of the school’s all time career record. She set the single season home run record as a freshman with 14.
As a team thus far this season the Rams have his 42 home runs, the most in the conference. They also lead the league in doubles with 59 and are second in runs with 165.
The Lobos come into the series with the highest earned run average in the conference at 4.40 and the fourth lowest team batting average at .287. Still, coach Yori said that the team is not one that the Rams can look over as they jump into the conference season.
“New Mexico is a solid team, and they have some strong pitching,” Yori said. “They have a couple of (pitchers) who can bring it, we just can’t let them get any momentum.”
The Rams will play each team in the conference four times before the conference champion is determined and sent to the NCAA regional tournament in May. CSU will be at home next weekend as well, hosting the San Diego State Aztecs in a two-game series.
Softball beat writer Nick Hubel can be firstname.lastname@example.org.