The UNCP women’s softball team kicked off their season with the UNCP Invitational, held on Feb. 2 and 3, featuring the Lady Braves playing six games against four different teams.
Starting hot, the Black and Gold won the first two games (7-4, 10- 2), but ended the invitational with losses against West Virginia State, Kutztown and Queens University. Led by a pair of seniors in catcher Toni Nelson and shortstop Taylor Gerhart, the Black and Gold were looking to improve upon their 26- 27 record from last season.
If the Lady Braves can clean up their record in conference play, they had a 6-18 record in the Peach Belt last season, UNCP could make some noise come tournament time. Nelson is coming off of a down year for her standards after hitting .290 with one homer and fifteen runs batted in.
This was a bit of a step back after her breakout sophomore campaign, in which she hit .318 with three home runs and 31 RBIs. Nelson is one of the captains of this team who is joined by teammate Gerhart. Gerhart has been an all star for the Braves since her freshman year.
Each year she has improved on her batting average going from .331 to .348 her sophomore year and then hitting a career high .361 last season. Gerhart is an RBI machine and a main cog in the offensive weaponry of the Black and Gold.
The Lady Braves started the UNCP invitational with back-to-back wins against the Kutztown Bears and Shippensburg Raiders. They defeated Kutztown 7-4 and mercy ruled Shippensburg 10-2 in five innings.
Nelson was the main offensive contributor in the two wins going a combined 3-6 with three RBIs. Unfortunately, that would be the only taste of winning the Black and Gold would get during the invitational.
The Lady Braves dropped all four of their remaining contests with two of those being called early in the fifth inning because of the mercy rule.
They lost to the West Virginia State Yellow Jackets 2-3, their second bout against Kutztown 2-11 (F/5) and both of their games against the Queens University of Charlotte Royals 3-5 and 0-9 (F/5). The six-game stretch looked like it took a toll on the whole team as they just couldn’t manage to muster any offense and they looked sluggish on defense.
They have plenty of time to get back on track before they enter conference play in March, but if they can’t get things going in the right direction before then, it’s going to be a tumultuous season for the Lady Braves.