The buzzing of dull florescent lights is interrupted by the sound of large yellow balls crushed against the force of a bat. Balls fly into the oversized black netting making them look like a salmon being caught in a whale net.
From behind a curtain at the middle of the gym come the rhythmic pops of high-speed pitches hitting oversized gloves; the arrangement of sounds almost creates a big-league atmosphere. The CSU softball team has been forced inside the auxiliary gym due to weather — all the while hoping the same isn’t true for this weekend.
The Rams (16-17) will be hosting their first game at home this Saturday against in-state rival Northern Colorado (11-20), if the weather cooperates. If snow is on the menu, the games will be moved to Sunday, a scenario that Danny Mattie, CSU athletic media relations representative, said was “90 percent sure.”
The team is set for a doubleheader against the Bears the first game at noon followed by the second at 3 p.m.
“It’s exciting. It’s finally nice to play at home,” said head coach Mary Yori. “We get to play at home, on our field, in front of our crowd and all of those are exciting things.”
Last season the two teams met three times, all ending in Rams victories. But last season’s triumphs mean about as much as a first basemen without a glove.
The two Colorado teams are playing at opposite ends of the victory spectrum. The Bears are riding a winning streak, beating Utah State on their home field three times. The Rams had a sub-par week away from classes, going 4-9 over the spring break stretch.
The Rams played 13 games in nine days and four cities and are glad they get some time at home.
“It’s a boost of energy for our players — knowing that they don’t have to go get on a plane,” Yori said.
The team went into its grueling spring break schedule feeling sound. They had just won three in a row and planned on more of the same, but their opponents felt differently.
The team went 1-1 in its first two games against San Jose State and Vermont and then lost the next six in a row. The Rams lost three of those games by a margin of one run but overall were only able to put up 11 runs to their opponents 25 in their first eight games.
“A couple times we looked tired. I think being on the road so much had something to do with it,” Yori said. “I think we didn’t come with the same intensity because of that. Some of it was definitely physical, but it was a combination of a lot of things.”
The Rams were able to keep their heads up and battle back from the disappointing stretch of games, going 3-2 in their final five games.
“We never got out of that winning mentality, we never lost that,” said shortstop Caitlan “Bug” Stem. “We came together so much as a team this spring break and that really helped us. We just need to execute.”
The team knows what it takes to win and will need to play complete games against the Bears if they plan to add more ‘W’s to its record.
Stem said the only thing the team lacks is consistency. At times the Rams played stellar defense but slept while at the plate, while in other instances those skills were reversed.
“We need some more clutch hits. Obviously we’ve learned we’re not going to put up eight runs per game, then our defense needs to be that much better,” Stem said.
The team will use the UNC games to evaluate players’ skill and focus before the third section of the season begins next week, when the Rams will host Utah and BYU to begin MWC Conference play.
Softball beat writer Keith Robertson can be reached at email@example.com.