It has been a season of marquee wins and devastating losses for the CSU softball team, but the 53-game season is far from over for the 20-14 Rams, who are ranked 80th out of 282 according to the most recent RPI poll.
After an 18-game road trip in which CSU won only 7 games, the Rams return home this afternoon to take on in-state rival Northern Colorado (7-30) at 3.
“(UNC) is a team that has always given us a challenge because it’s kind of an in-state rival thing and we understand that, but if we play a good game it does give us confidence going into the next weekend, which is New Mexico,” CSU coach Mary Yori said. “We’re looking forward to this and being back on our home field is a nice thing.”
Taking the mound and making her 10th start of the season for CSU will be senior Cayte Billman (7-3), who is 1-0 all-time against the Bears. Billman enters the game with a 3.69 ERA in 62.2 innings pitched.
“Cayte Billman pitched a great game against BYU the other day, that was one of her best games,” Yori said. “She’s been pitching a lot better over the past 10 days and even though it didn’t show as much in our series at BYU and Utah, she still pitched better and was coming out of her funk.”
While Billman controls the game from the circle, she will be supported on the offensive side of the diamond by the Mountain West Conference’s best hitting team. The Rams lead the MWC in home runs (43), batting average (.306) and slugging percentage (.510). Leading the charge of the offensive power house that make their home at Ram Field are senior third baseman Lauren Cusick and freshman shortstop Caitlan Stem.
While both are tied for second in the conference with a .386 batting average, Cusick leads the league in slugging percentage, runs scored, total bases and home runs. Her 14 home runs this season has already tied the program’s single season mark set by current Rams sophomore catcher Ashley Munos just one season ago.
“At the beginning of the year my train of thought was ‘why not?'” Cusick said when asked if her team’s success on offense comes from feeding from her senior leadership. “That’s what I think when I go up to the plate, when I step into the game, I just try to have confidence and hope that they’ll follow because if I have confidence in myself and if I can make a good example and be a fire starter, that can give them to hopefully play better.”
Stem, or “Bug” as her teammates call her, is riding seven-game hitting streak coming into this afternoon and feels that she can keep the rhythm at the plate as long as she wants to.
“As long as I come every game with the same mentality at the plate, it’ll keep coming. I’ll have my slumps, but as long as I work out of it, it will last as long as I want it to,” Stem said.
“(As far as) UNC, you can’t expect anything different with anyone else. They’re all gonna be decent pitchers, they’re all going to bring the ball, it’s just a matter of what you do with it and following Lauren (Cusick) in the batting order really helps because Lauren usually starts off the game really well and so when she starts it off, it gives me that much more energy to do it.”
After this afternoon’s contest, the Rams hit the road once again for a two-game series against New Mexico before coming back to Fort Collins for a six-game home stand.
Sports writer Matt L. Stephens can be reached at email@example.com.