Courtesy: Joe Browning Casey Rowland has a meeting in the circle with the infield
WILMINGTON, North Carolina - The UNCW softball team runs through its final tune-up before embarking on the Colonial Athletic Association slate when Atlantic Sun Conference offensive power USC-Upstate visits Boseman Field this weekend for a Saturday doubleheader.
The Seahawks, 10-12 overall, have won four of their last five outings and downed Liberty, 3-1, in their most recent outing last Saturday at the NCCU Eagle Challenge in Durham, N.C.
"This weekend will be a good matchup heading into our first conference weekend," said first-year Head Coach Kristy Norton. "USC-Upstate has a very similar team to what we're going to see in the conference because there's a lot of offense in the CAA."
Saturday's clash with the Spartans will give Norton's club a final opportunity to hone its skills before kicking off the 21-game CAA slate next weekend when conference juggernaut Hofstra visits for a three-game set.
Norton's team has played nine of its first 22 games away from home and carries a 6-3 home mark into Saturday's twinbill, which begins at 1 p.m. Admission is free. Visit UNCWsports.com for an audio broadcast of the doubleheader.
"One of the goals of our seniors was to win more games than last year and we've already accomplished that," Norton added. "Now, it's on to the next goal on the checklist. We're seeing some real good things. We're getting a lot of people playing time to see where they fit in. When you can move people around and still win 10 games, I consider that a small victory."
The Seahawks are hitting .265 as a team behind senior shortstop Lauryn Buckworth and versatile sophomore Morgan McCann. Buckworth tops the club with a .390 average and a team-best 23 hits and 13 runs batted in. McCann is hitting .321 with 17 hits and seven RBI's. Senior infielder Olivia Poplin has also provided strong leadership in the solid start for the team.
"We've settled into a pitching rotation and the top five batters," Norton said. "Casey (Rowland) and Jordyn (Schmidt) are doing a good job. They have a very low earned run average over the last five games and I can see they're gaining a lot of confidence with the defense behind them."
Rowland and Schmidt have been the workhorses on the mound. Rowland has appeared in 14 games with 11 starts, compiling a 6-5 record with a team-leading 4.02 ERA. Schmidt owns a 4.67 ERA and has made seven starts in her first season with the team.
Freshman outfielder Taylor Matkins has also made a strong impact on the club in her first year. The Greenville, N.C., standout shared CAA Rookie-of-the-Week honors with Delaware's Gabby Klecko after batting .500 last week with four RBIs and four runs scored as the Seahawks went 4-1 on the week.
After tackling a strong early-season schedule against the likes of Florida and Tennessee, the Seahawks have bounced back over the last five games with a sweep at North Carolina A&T and a solid appearance in the NCCU tourney.
Norton said, "We really challenged our team after the Charleston Southern tournament and told them that we were facing a major turning point in the season. We came out of it 4-1. Our confidence is high and we're ready to go into this weekend to see what we can do."
USC-Upstate, meanwhile, brings a robust 19-2 record and five-game winning streak into the weekend's play. The Spartans reeled off 10 straight victories to open the spring season, but have only played two games away from home.
The Spartans feature a potent offense and have outscored opponents, 159-33, this season. Coach Chris Hawkins' team is batting .377 as a team with 67 extra base hits, including 21 home runs.