BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The UAB softball team fit in just 31 games before its season was cut short on March 12 preceding the Blazers’ first Conference USA series against UTEP. Though the Blazers still had half a season left to play, we learned a lot about the team during nonconference play.
The Blazers were already in El Paso when they learned the news that the softball season was over. While the majority of the conference had opened league play the weekend before, the Blazers were one of the few teams that had to wait until March 13 to face a conference opponent.
Even though the season was cut halfway through, we still found out a lot about the Blazers. Here are five things we learned from the 2020 season:
1. The Blazers did not shy away from tough competition
UAB accumulated a 15-11 record against a difficult nonconference schedule that featured three ranked opponents and five 2019 NCAA tournament teams including two WCWS participants.
On opening weekend, UAB recorded its first win against Georgia Tech in program history and its first win over a Power 5 school since 2016. UAB then erased a 6-0 deficit against No. 1 Washington to tie the Huskies at 7-7 before falling on a walk off single for their only loss of the weekend.
In the third week of the season, UAB hosted one of the premiere tournaments in the country as No. 11 Louisiana, No. 14 Oklahoma State and Ole Miss came to Birmingham for the Blazer Classic. Despite going 0-4 on the weekend, the Blazers put up a strong fight, including a marathon battle against Ole Miss before falling to the Rebels 14-11 in 13 innings.
The Blazers finished the season ranked at No. 60 in the NCAA softball RPI.
2. Pitching staff settled in
Perhaps one of the most exciting developments of the season was the improvement of the UAB pitching staff, which featured no seniors. The Blazer’s limited free passes, allowing the fewest walks in C-USA with only 48 on the season. UAB’s 143 strikeouts trailed only WKU and North Texas in C-USA rankings.
JUCO transfer Amy Woodham anchored the Green and Gold in the circle with a team best 1.91 ERA and 62.1 innings pitched. Woodham recorded 40 strikeouts while walking only 15 batters and holding opponents to .237 batting average. She was named C-USA Co-Pitcher of the Week on Feb. 17 after tossing two shutouts in the Scrapyard Tournament.
Sophomore Sarah Cespedes led UAB with 51 strikeouts and saw plenty of action in both starting and relief roles pitching 54.1 innings. Cespedes led C-USA in appearances, games finished and games in relief.
Junior Emily Kachel finished second on the team with a 2.76 ERA, but was limited due to injuries. Kachel went 3-1 in the circle with 30 strikeouts in just 25.1 innings. After missing two weeks, she returned to the rubber looking as dominant as ever against Jacksonville on March 7, tossing a shutout with a career high 11 strikeouts.
Freshman Jaycee Cook played a major role in the UAB bullpen in her first season as a Blazer. Cook led the team in wins with a 5-1 record and made a team high eight starts. The freshman struck out 22 and allowed just nine walks over 42.0 innings of work.
3. The Blazers started the season on the right foot
UAB jumped out to the best 11 game start in program history since 2002 going 8-3 over the first two weekends of play.
4. Defensive improvements
The Blazers ranked third in fielding percentage and first in putouts in C-USA. UAB’s defense made some big time plays despite shuffling around for most of the season.
Dylinn Stancil was a staple at third base for the Blazers while Natalie Erwin and Analyse Petree each made starts at first base. Petree also spent time at second, rotating with Ashton Clem, both performing at a high level. Freshmen Sam Bean and Gabi Apiag split time at short stop, with a few appearances by Clem late in the season.
The UAB defense recorded a .963 fielding percentage and 552 total putouts. The Blazers turned eight double plays, the fourth most in C-USA.
5. UAB is trending upwards
UAB ended the season winning three straight and six of the last seven games. The Blazers were just four wins from matching their 2019 total and finished above .500 for the first time in five years.
Head coach Jimmy Kolaitis saw major improvements in his team’s offense, defense and pitching this season with a number of freshmen and newcomers suiting up in the Green and Gold for the first time. While the season ended sooner than expected, the future looks bright in Birmingham. Effective March 16, Conference USA announced that all spring sport competition and championships have been canceled.