BEAUMONT, Texas – The Lamar University Cardinals look to get their offense back in gear this weekend when they host the Central Arkansas Bears in a three-game Southland Conference series at the LU Softball Complex. The Bears and Cardinals are scheduled to play a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Friday and a single game at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Cardinals (20-20 overall, 10-5 Southland) got three solid pitching performances last weekend in taking two of three games from visiting Sam Houston State. Ciara Luna, the Southland Conference pitcher of the Week, went 1-1 with a 0.00 ERA vs. the Bearkats, throwing a two-hit shutout on Saturday, after going all 10 innings in a 1-0 loss on Friday, with the only run coming via the tie-breaker. Laura Napoli threw a complete game in a 4-2 win over Sam Houston State in Friday’s nightcap.
The Cardinals hit just .195 on the weekend, scoring six runs, but Luna and Napoli held the Bearkats to three runs and a .167 batting average.
“Our pitching was tremendous,” LU coach Holly Bruder said. “However, we need our best hitters to produce. We didn’t make adjustments. We have to do a better job this weekend.”
LU enters the weekend in fourth place in the conference, four games behind first-place McNeese and two games behind Nicholls and Abilene Christian. LU currently holds the third seed in next month’s six-team Southland Conference Tournament, as Abilene Christian, which is in its final year of transitioning from Division II to Division I, is ineligible for the tourney.
All conference teams have 12 SLC games (four series) remaining on the schedule.
“Our goal is to win each series,” Bruder said. “It’s tough to sweep a series, especially against the better teams. “Central Arkansas is good enough to beat us. We can’t take them lightly.”
The Bears (16-27, 6-9) are tied with Northwestern State for eighth place overall and seventh place in the tournament chase. Central Arkansas took two of three games from visiting Stephen F. Austin last weekend.
The Bears, who are hitting .235 as a team, are led by Kaylyn Shepherd, who has a .306 batting average. Kayla Crutchmer sports a .304 batting average in limited action.
Senior right-hander Kayla Gomness (10-13, 2.59) has seen the bulk of work in the circle for the Bears.
LU senior center fielder Brittany Rodriguez is tied for SLC lead in hitting with a .397 average. Rodriguez struggled last weekend, going just 1-for-11.
“We need Brittany to get back on track this weekend,” Bruder said. “She is the fastest player in the league. She has to put the ball on the ground and challenge defenses.”
The Cardinals, who are hitting .279 as a team, have three other starters hitting better than .300 on the season. Catcher Brynn Baca is hitting .333 with a team-leading 25 RBIs, left fielder Ashley McDowell is hitting .308, while third baseman Sable Hankins is batting .305 with a team-best three home runs. McDowell needs one RBI to become the first player in program history with 100 RBIs in a career.
“We need some others to step up this weekend,” Bruder said. “They are going to pitch us inside, and we have to be ready to make the adjustments.”
PROMOTIONAL SCHEDULE: Friday is Childhood Cancer Awareness Night. The ADPI Sorority will be selling lemonade to raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House in Galveston. The LU players and staff will be wearing gold laces and ribbons to help raise awareness of childhood cancer. Also on Friday, student-athletes from LU’s other teams will be on hand as part of the Students vs. Blood Cancer Drive, registering potential bone-marrow donors to help save the lives of those suffering from blood cancer.
On Saturday, youngsters can participate in a postgame Easter Egg hunt.
UP NEXT: The Cardinals host Texas State in a non-conference game at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
MILESTONE WATCH: With her first appearance this weekend, Napoli will become the first pitcher in program history with 100 appearances. Napoli and Luna are both closing in on the LU record for career strikeouts of 226 held by Shannon Millman. Napoli has fanned 205 batters in her career, while Luna has claimed 204 strikeout victims.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Central Arkansas has a 6-5 lead in the all-time series. Last year, the Cardinals took two of three games from the Bears at UCA. LU is 3-0 all-time vs. UCA at home, sweeping a three-game series at Ford Park in 2014.