By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
While waiting for a full Summit League schedule next season, the UNO softball team was fortunate enough to get a conference invite for the 2012 season. After going 3-3 over the weekend at the Great Western Conference Cluster in Farmers Branch, Texas, the Mavs know they’ll be playing as the no. 2 seed when the conference tournament comes up in mid-May.
UNO opened up with a split, winning 3-1 then losing 1-0 to Utah Valley on Friday, swept Houston Baptist on Saturday 5-0 and 3-2 in eight innings then dropped two to North Dakota, 3-0 and 6-4, on Sunday.
Sophomore starting pitcher Dana Elsasser continued her strong season on the mound. The Hershey, Neb. native struck out 17 hitters in three starts and 18 innings of work.
Elsasser ran her record to 7-6 while limiting the opposition to just .178 hitting. The Mavs’ ace walked only two batters and allowed just one earned run on the weekend.
While Elsasser had her team in position to win every game she pitched in, that was not the case for the Maverick offense. Though the Mavs won two of the three Elsasser starts, UNO hit just .175 in those three starts.
Luckily, the Mavs gave Elsasser eight runs of support in two of those starts, but failed to plate any in her third. UNO was also shutout 1-0 in a start by Kat Barrow.
In six games, the Mavs hit just .158 and drew only 13 walks compared to 28 strikeouts. UNO left five or more runners on base in five of the six games.
Time and again the Maverick pitching staff picked up an ineffective offense. Junior Ashton Hughes also saw time on the mound.
Overall, the UNO staff earned just six runs while walking a total of only 12 hitters and striking out 39. Opponents had a batting average of .197 against Mav pitchers.
Elsasser led off the weekend with a complete-game four hitter, walking none while striking out nine Utah Valley hitters. But Wolverines starter Tiffany Mills matched Elsasser, no-hitting UNO for the first five innings.
All three Maverick hits and runs came in the bottom of the sixth. Great Western Conference Player of the Week Katelyn Hinton had a two run double, and senior outfielder Mollie Jones had a pinch-hit RBI single to lead UNO to the 3-0 victory.
In the night game, it was another pitcher’s duel through the first six until Utah Valley ended it with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh. Maverick starter Barrow took the loss to drop to 4-4.
Barrow tossed a four-hitter, struck out four and walked four. Junior outfielder Lindsay Redding had two of UNO’s three hits.
Saturday it was another gem from Elsasser and a sweep of Houston Baptist. Elsasser led off the day with a complete-game four-hitter, walking none while striking out three.
A single by sophomore Amber Lutmer in the second inning started the scoring for the Mavs. After Lutmer reached base she was pinch-run for by freshman Lindsay Gilliland.
Gilliland went from first to home on a play where the Houston Baptist shortstop and centerfielder tried to catch Gilliland on the basepaths. UNO then broke it open with a four run fifth to get the 5-0 win.
In the second game it took a run in extra innings to secure the sweep. Utah Valley fought back to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh but the Mavs got a run in the top of the eighth.
Senior Emma Wright singled then was pinch-run for by teammate Mara Eeman. Eeman moved to second on a sacrifice then scored when a grounder from Lauren Larson was mishandled by the Utah Valley shortstop.
Hughes retired the side in order in the bottom of the eighth to pick up the win and complete the sweep. Sunday the Mavs were shutout in game one, then had a comeback fall short in game two.
North Dakota starter Emma Gronseth allowed hits to just Redding and Wright while her offense got two runs in the third and and one in the fifth for the 3-0 win. Elsasser took her first loss of the weekend, throwing four and two-thirds and allowing five hits and one earned run.
The Fighting Sioux jumped out to a 6-0 lead in game two but UNO battled back to within 6-4 in the fifth inning. Lutmer doubled with the bases loaded to score two in the fourth, then Wright followed with an RBI to make it 6-3.
In the fifth Barrow scored from third on a hit by Redding, but the offense then left two runners stranded on base. The Mavs had another chance in the seventh but left another on as the comeback fell short.
UNO starter Hughes took the loss after allowing four in the first and two in the second. Barrow came on the rest of the way and limited the Fighting Sioux to just two hits.