A week removed from a successful West Coast road trip, the CSU softball team will now take aim at in-state rival Northern Colorado during a double-header against the Bears tomorrow afternoon.
The two-game series, which will go down in Greeley Saturday, is the first meeting between the schools this season. The Bears (7-21) will travel to Fort Collins on April 7, to play the third and final match against the Rams (20-10).
â€œItâ€™s unique playing the same opponent three times in a row,â€ head coach Mary Yori said. â€œWhether itâ€™s conference or non-conference, we need to keep putting a good brand of softball out there.â€
The Rams will enter tomorrowâ€™s double-header as winners of 19 of their last 25, while the Bears enter on the heels of a seven-game losing skid. Still, Yori refuses to take the Bears lightly.
â€œNorthern Colorado is a good opponent, they always play us tough,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s for bragging rights. Itâ€™s always a fun game.â€
Because of typically unreliable weather in February and March, very few schools in the region feature Division I softball teams.
CU-Boulder, Air Force, Denver and Wyoming are all without NCAA teams due to weather restrictions, making the rivalry with UNC all the more important.
â€œUNC always comes ready to fight,â€ said senior Rebecca Penland. â€œWeâ€™re going to play this game like weâ€™ve played every other game.â€
The Ramsâ€™ 20 season wins are just six shy of their total victories posted a year ago. One of the many reasons for the Ramsâ€™ drastic improvement in 2010 has been the offensive explosion of Penland.
In 2009, Penland hit for a .274 average with one home run and 15 runs batted in. In just more than half of the 2010 season, the senior slugger has already hit .409 with two home runs and 28 RBIâ€™s.
â€œIâ€™ve been playing every game as if it were my last,â€ said Penland, who bats fourth in the Ramsâ€™ lineup. â€œAs a senior, I wonâ€™t have next year to say, â€˜I should have done better.â€™â€
Along with the Ramsâ€™ steady offensive improvement, Yori said she believes the team has benefited greatly by production received in the pitching circle.
â€œWhen you have some stability in the pitching circle, you come to the ballpark at least knowing youâ€™ll be in the game,â€ Yori said. â€œI think our pitching staff as a whole has been much stronger (compared to last season).â€
The Rams and Bears will face off Saturday at noon, with the second game set for 3 p.m.
Softball Beat Reporter Joel Hafnor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.